On to a new path
Development of new curriculum — made necessary by the pandemic — will allow for a much-needed change in the education sector, both in India and abroad
Never before have children and young persons suffered so much anxiety, nervousness, uncertainty and depression as has been inflicted on them across the globe due by an invisible and apparently uncontrollable adversary: COVID-19! Globally, decision-makers and policymakers are making serious attempts to envision how their sector of activity would confront the post-COVID-19 world. Education of children and young people, roughly around two billion; is the common global concern. Every generation toils hard to ensure a better future for the generations ahead. For everyone and every family, the safety, security and education of their children gets precedence over every other need and requirement. Parents are really worried and disturbed, even if the schools open after two-three months, would it indeed be safe to send children to school under the prevailing conditions of uncertainty and insecurity? How shall children cover the curriculum? What would be the fate of; say; children who would be appearing in the Class 12 examination of 2021? What would be the fate of children of any grade or class who are now being put to on-line coverage of curriculum? It is indeed painful to talk to parents unwilling to take risks even at the cost of losing one academic year for their wards!
A lot of things would happen in education in the coming months, and these may change the very face of the Indian education system. Online teaching-learning shall acquire a huge chunk of activity, curricula shall have to be redone and revised due to increased share of online learning and the corresponding reduction in the face-to-face mode. A new national education policy could be announced any time, after a prolonged wait of over four years. The most important change should come in the shape of the new curriculum framework for school education, which has been disturbingly delayed; the last one was produced in 2005, and every dynamic system of education in educationally-alert countries makes it a point to revise it, and rewrite textbooks after every five years. Not only this, provision is also kept for introducing 'frontline curriculum' in case there are some pathbreaking changes that must be presented properly to children on an urgent basis. Every cycle of curriculum change requires corresponding changes in the curricula of teacher education institutions to enable them to respond to new changes. Simultaneously, the in-service orientation of teachers is also organised to familiarise them with the emerging expectations from them. As the measure of change in every aspect of education has to be enormous, close coordination between schools, teachers, learners and families is required on one side and on the other, amongst curriculum developers, textbook writers, evaluation experts and experts who prepare online content. They shall have to burn the midnight oil to keep pace with the changes.
To keep the morale of the parents, maintain the continuity of learning amongst children, and sustain the teaching-learning environment within the limitations imposed by the COVID-19, schools, higher education institutions and teachers are really taxing their innovative skills dexterously to ensure a smile on the faces of innocent children and seriously-worried young persons. The online learning model is being put to the fullest possible use. It has its limitations of varied kinds, but it is the best possible alternative at present and, hence, deserves sincere appreciation from all quarters. A very significant step has been announced by the premier school board of the country; the Central Board of Secondary Education; CBSE. It has decided to reduce the curriculum load by around 30 per cent for the academic year 2020-2021. The CBSE has identified certain topics in each subject/textbook and indicated that these would not be a part of the evaluation procedures; both internal and external. It has brought unprecedented — and much needed — relief to parents and children. There is no restriction on students reading/ learning these chapters. It has also been clarified that this decision is based on inputs received from parents, principals and people in general who are aware of the curriculum load issues and are sensitive to the situations in which children have been placed during the current academic session.
Even before the Corona crisis, the issue of curriculum load was under discussion for over 30 years, particularly after Shri RK Narayan, the eminent author, made a touching speech in Rajya Sabha in 1990. It was followed by the constitution of the Yash Pal Committee within a year. However, nothing substantial has happened so far. The present step of the CBSE paves a new path on curriculum development strategies in times when children have several other sources of learning, other than only textbooks and teachers! Further, it is globally realised that the content and pedagogy need to undergo serious changes in view of increasing emphasis on lifelong learning. Accordingly, the underlying stream in curriculum formulation has to be 'learning to learn'!
I have not come across a single person — except the politically-constrained experts — who have not appreciated this step. One must recall a hilarious incident on 'deletion/removal' of portions from the textbooks. The CBSE, at the request of the NCERT, removed the para: "Another power that in this period in the region around Delhi, Agra and Mathura was that of the Jats. They founded their State at Bhagalpur wherefrom they conducted plundering raids in the regions around and participated in the court intrigues at Delhi." This part of the Class VIII textbook for over three decades. Its removal was criticised as an attempt to 'saffronise' education! When the new Union Government took over in May 2004, this para was promptly 'restored' back as a measure of 'desaffronisation'! In 2007, when Haryana elections were to be held, and Jat organisations protested against the distortion of historical facts that presented the entire community in poor light, the CBSE was ordered to remove it forthwith! It complied! Those who were instrumental in bringing in ideological bias in textbooks and never cared to correct the distorted facts are again protesting against the current reduction in the textual material for the 2021 examinations. CBSE deserves all the support and appreciation that is due for this highly professional initiative.
The writer works in education and social cohesion. Views expressed are personal