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GoI document ignores 'inherent' inequality, discrimination, segregation in education

Counterview Desk 

Commenting on the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for School Education, 2023, the Right To Education (RTE) Forum, claiming to be India’s largest education civil society network working on realising RTE, has said that while the emphasis on teaching children about India’s contribution to the world is welcome, “At the same time, the child should also learn to critically appraise India’s weaknesses so that she will learn from past mistakes and find out a way for the future.”
The RTE Forum’s submission to the Ministry of Education, Government of India (GoI),  based on consultations with civil society leaders, academics, parents, and teachers, says that there should be better leverage on “education as an instrument of social change to create a more equal society”.
It points out, "While the NCF includes a chapter on inclusion, the document fails to live up to its potential by failing to respond to the inherent inequalities, discrimination, and segregation in India’s education system", insisting, NCF should “provide a roadmap for how the transformative potential for education will be tapped into to create a more equal India.”

Text:

Based on our discussions we feel that the pre-draft NCF document has several welcome features including providing more holistic assessments and making examinations less stressful. However, there is scope to strengthen the overall framework, particularly from the lens of equity. The submission, therefore, includes a few overarching suggestions for improvement and detailed recommendations for each dimension that are Annexed (click here).

Overarching suggestions:

Overall, the NCF would be stronger if it could
1. Provide rights-based underpinning to the framework. The NCF would have been stronger if it included the Right to Education Act in general and the specific statutory RTE norms in its framework. At the same time, it could have recognized the underpinning of education as a fundamental right for all children aged 6-14 years of age as part of the Article 21-A of the Constitution or the legacy of early childhood education is inherently part of the right to life under the Unnikrishnan Judgement. The NEP has been pathbreaking in its focus on the educational continuum including early childhood and provides for ‘equitable and quality education until Grade 12 to all children up to the age of 18’ but disappointingly does not talk about the need for upward and downward extension of the RTE in domestic law. This puts into question India’s fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 Education 2030 agenda which includes a commitment to a minimum 12 years of free, publicly-funded, inclusive, equitable, quality primary and secondary education – of which at least nine years are compulsory.
2. Offer greater space for states to evolve their approaches. A curriculum framework is a document that describes the educational environment in which syllabuses (or subject-specific outlines of objectives, outcomes, content and appropriate assessment and teaching methodologies) can be developed. It is meant to offer broad guidelines based on which states can prepare their positions. In contrast, the current 600-page pre-draft NCF spells out minute detail which simultaneously makes it difficult for a reader to fully comprehend given its length and makes it sound prescriptive. The next version of the NCF should be shorter, highlight the critical points and simultaneously be flexible, allowing states to exercise their autonomy in the process of curriculum design and implementation.
3. Better leverage education as an instrument of social change to create a more equal society. While the NCF includes a chapter on inclusion, the document fails to live up to its potential by failing to respond to the inherent inequalities, discrimination, and segregation in India’s education system and provide a roadmap for how the transformative potential for education will be tapped into to create a more equal India. The NCF should set the direction for India to reduce and eventually end structural inequalities in the education system arising from unequal resourcing of the education systems; the quality gap between single-teacher schools and Kendriya Vidyalayas must be closed. A strength of the NEP is the recognition of the value of mother tongue-based multi-lingual education. A more explicit focus on the need to promote tribal languages should be prioritised as would further inputs to promote Indian Sign Language. A commitment to ensuring uniformly high-quality education for all children needs to be mainstreamed across the document including classroom professes, teaching-learning materials, classroom culture and clear curricular objectives build into the curriculum at various stages. Concrete measures to address discrimination experienced by students from marginalized communities (including Dalits, children with disabilities, LGBTQ+, Adivasi and minority students) from peers and teachers alike. While the NCF talks about the criticality of having a flexible education system, we are deeply concerned that this will not be realized given the reality of resource constraints and would instead contribute to the legitimation of a two-track education system with those from poor and marginalized communities being pushed into the vocational track and from there into caste and gender stereotyped occupations.
4. The gender lens.
The NCF does commit to addressing the educational challenges of girls but fails to suggest concrete measures to address behavioural and societal change required to correct gender inequality in educational settings. The text would be stronger if it explicitly mentioned girls’ education in the inclusion section and included concrete actions to tackle pressing issues such as gender-based violence, gender-based discrimination, the gendered digital divide and the underrepresentation of girls and women in STEM fields. It should highlight the need for programs that are designed to cater to the unique needs and experiences of students facing discrimination or marginalization based on their gender identity or expression. At the same time, given the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls, it is essential to address the gendered dimensions of environmental concerns and ensure that both girls and boys are actively engaged in learning about and acting for the environment.
5. Value the latest knowledge, irrespective of its source and reiterate 21st Century Skills. At the same time, while the NCF talks about acknowledging the importance of local knowledge/Indianness which is important, we should not forget that in times of globalization, it is necessary to aspire to the highest standards globally, especially considering India’s aspirations to become a global leader. Knowledge has become universal since the Industrial Revolution and especially now in the age of the internet. It is good that children should know about India’s contribution to the world. At the same time, the child should also learn to critically appraise India’s weaknesses so that she will learn from past mistakes and find out a way for the future. Swami Vivekananda shared the story of the frog during the Parliament of World Religions in 1893, highlighting the need to appreciate the world at large. Children should be aware of present-day problems related to inequality, discrimination and the dangers resulting from climate change and be prepared to address them. The NCF could do more to reiterate the need to develop 21st Century Skills like Communication, cooperation, critical thinking, curiosity, and creativity to draw a balance between the traditional and the contemporary. Play-based pedagogy, activity-based learning, and reduced dependence on textbooks (with NEP emphasising No Bag Days) will enable children to depart from the rote learning practices and imbibe inquiry-based pedagogy as envisaged in the NEP and address present-day challenges like climate change.
At the same time, the NCF carries forward some of the risks that are part of the National Education Policy (NEP) inherent in the proposed 5+3+3+4 stages of education, but no concrete processes have been proposed on how the challenges arising from the radical change in the education system would be organized. Thus, it will break the foundational stage across two education systems (early childhood and school education) and raises challenges for implementation given that the adoption of the same will involve a restructuring of the entire education system.
At the same time, the document should place greater emphasis on teachers. To improve the implementation of the NCF, it would be crucial to provide teachers with respect, professional status, and space to experiment and innovate in the classroom. We hope that these dimensions are being covered in the subsequent framework.
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Click here for Annexure

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