The National Curriculum Framework 2005, published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training, is the fourth National Framework and is based on the recommendation of the Yashpal Committee Report ‘Learning without Burden’, 1993 and the NPE 1986. The document aims to provide a framework on curriculum, textbooks, assessment and teaching practices within the educational system in India so as to make flexible and focused on the child’s present rather than his/ her future. It is based on constructive pedagogy as compared to its previous counterparts which were based on behaviorist pedagogy. According to the framework, children construct their own knowledge from the experiences in their surroundings and by adding new information to the existing information.
The guiding principles of the curriculum which forms its core are:
1. Connecting knowledge to life outside the school
2. Ensuring that learning is shifted away from rote methods
3. Enriching the curriculum to provide for overall development of children rather than remain textbook centric
4. Making examinations more flexible and integrated into classroom life and
5. Nurturing an overriding identity informed by caring concerns within the democratic polity of the country (NCF, 2005, p. 5).
The entire framework is divided into five parts namely:
2. Learning and Knowledge
3. Curricular Areas, School Stages and Assessment
4. School and Classroom Environment
5. Systemic Reform
Critical Evaluation of the Policy from Caste Perspective
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar brought in the idea of purity and pollution in the educational system of our country and how since years Dalits and tribals have faced atrocities at the hands of the people belonging to the upper castes.He also highlighted the fact that in order to maintain the caste system, the women have to be oppressed. Even though the time has changed and efforts are being made by the authorities and government to provide compulsory education to all the children through different policies, what goes inside the school at the ground level is very different. The hidden curriculum still prevails and is propagated through the actions of the teachers and the textbooks.
NCF 2005 proposed several changes in the educational system including the textbooks, infrastructure, teaching methods, inculcating constitutional values like equality, justice in children. It also paid attention to the children belonging to the marginalized section of the society like Scheduled Castes and tribes, disabled children, and those belonging to different religions, creeds and races to ensure a standard curriculum is provided.
1) Untouchability (the notion of purity and pollution)
This concept was introduced by Ambedkar in his study of the caste system in India. The practice of untouchability is, unfortunately, still prevalent across India. This has for long plagued the access of schooling for the Dalits and has forced them into the vicious cycle of oppression and poverty. Even when steps were taken by the British to provide them education, separate schools were set up for them (in the face of backlash by the upper castes) and the conditions were abysmal, which proved to be ineffective to improve their social status.
The NCF aims at universalization of elementary education for every child until 14 years of age and to provide quality education. On the face of it, it seems to be a progressive step to increase literacy in India, but if seen at the ground level, millions of children belonging to the lower caste face discrimination at the hands of teachers and students. They are made to sit separately on the floors and given little to no attention due to the prejudice of the teacher of the children not able to perform well in school (Ramachandran & Naorem, 2013, p.45). Given the fact that these children are usually first generation learners, these kinds of atrocities combined with out of context content often force them to drop out of the schools.
2) Inherent nature of exclusion- Social exclusion can be said to be the denial of equal opportunities to the lower caste by the upper caste. Caste in itself is a form of exclusion of the lower caste from accessing the basic needs which can help them overcome their situations. This exclusion also seeps into the educational institutions, where the experiences and inherent knowledge of the students belonging to the lower castes are ignored and not taken into consideration.
The NCF 2005 posits the inclusion of community and local knowledge in the curriculum to make it enriched and to reduce discrimination gap bewteen students. Every community has its own set of specialized skills and knowledge. People belonging to the lower castes like SC and ST often specialize in manual labour and activities associated with them. However, the knowledge of the subaltern class is not informed by the present curricular framework.
The framework points out the need of the curriculum to be flexible enough to accommodate the need of every student and that the role of the teacher should be that of a facilitator. However, the irony stands when the lower caste children and their needs are sidelined and the teachers ignore them to focus on the ‘bright students’ of the class. The efforts came only from the child if he/ she wanted to learn. “English and vernaculars are reproduced in educational institutions of the country, thus marginalising, excluding, and thingifying Dalit women and men. They even had to learn a new sanskritised and sanitised language” (Paik, 2018). The schools essentially reproduce the social inequalities and discriminatory practices prevalent in the society which naturally excludes these children from the curricular and teaching practices.
3) Division of Labour and Labourer- The caste system brings with it not only the division of labour but also division of labourers. According to Ambedkar, this division is not out of choice but rather compulsion and is inflexible and enclosed in watertight compartments. The labour is not allowed to move between different occupations and is forced to the caste based occupation forever and is not based on competence.
The NCF encourages the participation of all children in different activities without any discrimination as it would lead to inclusion of all children irrespective of any differences. However, it is an established fact that it is a far-fetched recommendation with little chances to be actually implemented. Children belonging to the lower caste face atrocities on a daily basis. Their minds are ingrained with the notion of doing similar jobs done by their parents. This is further strengthened by the environments they face in school. These children are often made to clean the toilets, classrooms and playgrounds. They are made to sit at the back of the classroom and are rebuked by the teachers and students, which in turn affects their cognition and retention ability (Ramchandran & Naorem, 2013).
The NCF mainly focuses on education of the primary level and little attention is paid on the higher levels. The reality remains that most of the Dalit children do not get the opportunity or are not able to sustain themselves to go past the primary level. So higher education remains out of their reach. Changes in higher education are required to be made so as to accommodate the needs of these underprivileged children and enable them to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty and oppression.
4) Whose Knowledge is important- Due to the low educational level of the people belonging to the lower caste, the major focus of the policy makers, especially in the British era, was on the upper caste and their educational needs and demands. The educational needs of the Dalits is something which is ignored even today and this can be seen through the curriculum of schools. The experiences of the Dalit child are not incorporated in the curriculum. They are still represented as people who are destined to serve the upper caste. What and whose knowledge is available and appreciable in society does not belong to the lower caste.
The NCF allows children to construct their own knowledge based on past experiences, but the admission to the various educational institutions is done only on the basis of rote memorization and written examinations. This points out to the major weakness in the NCF, because it does not clearly state the procedure for admitting a child.
The education system is governed by the word rather than the work. This essentially means that the word (language, particularly English) is considered more efficient than the work (manual). An individual having a command over the language will be given priority over the individual not having full knowledge of it. Similarly, the experiences, mostly related to manual labour (of working in the fields, having command over the local languages), that is, the work aspect are hardly taken into consideration. This points out to the disparity between caste and class. It shows that education is not inclusive as it presents itself to be.
Some of the other shortcomings which I felt were visible in the policy, while reading it are as follows-
1. Multigrade Teaching- The document states that multigrade teaching would be an efficient way to incorporate students from different classes into one class for collective and collaborative teaching. Some papers have also pointed out its success in primary grades in Karnataka. However, how efficient and successful it would be in higher standards is still uncertain.
2. No information on duration of each class- The time to be allocated to each subject is not mentioned in the document, which places special emphasis on the value of time for effective learning by the students.
3. CCE creates burden on the teachers- The document suggests CCE for continuously marking the progress made by the child in the class. However, give the fact that most of the responsibility of handling the class falls on the teacher, this would turn out to be more of a burden on them.
4. Ignoring geography- Social studies education has been given emphasis and different subjects under it and their curriculum has been highlighted except geography, which is also an important subject to make students aware of the different climate, vegetation, animals around the world.
5. Bottom up approach- The frameworks cites the need to plan the curriculum according to the needs of the students, that is, it should be planned at the school level by the teachers and principal in a participatory manner and not be imposed upon them by the higher authorities. The question here arises is that is our system, especially the government schools, efficient and aware of the needs of the students to implement this?
6. Focus on mother tongue- The framework posits the three language formula with focus on teaching the child in the mother tongue. However, in a class, children (especially those belonging to tribal areas) can have multiple mother tongues and may not know the state language. How will the medium of instruction then be decided without alienating the child?
Mudita Pant is pursuing her Masters at the School of Education, TISS Mumbai.