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Tuesday, August 07, 2001

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Anatomy of educational change

GLOBAL UPSURGE for universal elementary education is one of the long lasting landmarks of the 20th Century. Though still unachieved, this mandate has transformed the process of change in every aspect of human endeavour and initiative. At this juncture of history, change is visible everywhere in a magnitude never experienced or visualised ever before. Needless to say, change has characterised the very growth and development of human beings throughout their existence on the planet. Globally, changes are envisioned, perceived, observed, analysed and based upon the inferences, either accepted or rejected. Ignorance, illiteracy and poverty often impede this process of sifting the desirable from the undesirable. While it is generally accepted that change is inevitable, it is often resisted due to inherent identification with the past and also the inertia to resist whatever is new.

Change needs envisioning perception and understanding which leads to initiation and implementation. It could take place on a large scale or on a small scale. Basically planning for the change is the key factor, which must follow the process of perceiving the initiative. In all changes leading to reform and improvement, the basic objective is to get them institutionalised in the system, whether a large one or on a small one. Unnecessary delay results in dissipation of initiatives. An example is the recommendation of the Education Commission (1964-66) also known as Kothari Commission on common school system in India. After more than 30 years, this recommendation has practically been forgotten as no sincere efforts were apparently made by the planners and implementers to put the recommendation in action.

The constitution of every country reflects its ethos and also its main concern. The Constitution of India accordingly identified universal elementary education as one of the major goals to be achieved and mandated a time frame of 10 years for the same. This was a revolutionary vision in a newly independent large country that had to struggle on several fronts like food, nutrition, health, energy, security and lack of resources to implement its developmental initiatives. Of course, the country had the requisite intellectual and professional manpower of its own to have an indigenous perspective of its requirements. Frontline leaders of the freedom struggle had realised the significance of education on the one hand and the need to develop a model suitable for the Indian situation on the other. It is another story that the 10 years target still remains elusive. The achievements too are significant.

Nearly double the population of India at the time of independence is now literate. This could have been a glaring example of educational achievement, if the millions were not still illiterate. The concerns of population, poverty, environment, energy, water, urbanisation and several others remain prominent. The social, cultural and economic contexts become the determining factors for educational policies and curriculum in schools.

The first major educational policy formulation in the post- Independence period was made as a consequence of the Kothari Commission Report (1964-66) in 1968. The restructuring of the school education system in 10+2+3 pattern is one of the visible outcomes of this policy. It also made a recommendation of far- reaching consequence by introducing undifferentiated curriculum for 10 years schooling, for both boys and girls.

For the first time science and mathematics were made compulsory components of 10 years schooling again for both boys and girls. This recommendation has made effective and visible contribution in generating manpower, suitable for all sectors of development in national initiatives. The implementation of the 1968 policy in school sector at the national level was logically achieved through the school curriculum framework developed by the NCERT in 1975.

The framework kept in focus the recommendations of the education commission for an `internal transformation of education' so as to relate it to the life, needs and aspirations of the nation and the values enshrined in our constitution towards the development of pluralist open society and a state which is secular, democratic and socialist in nature. Every attempt was made to reflect these aims and values in structure, content methodology and in the entire design of the curriculum.

It also emphasised that the rigid structures of the system have to be changed and alternatives like multiple entry, part time education, non-formal education and teaching by workers, artisans, writers, etc. in schools have to be tried out to achieve the goals of comprehensive educational transformation.

The rigidity of the system, however, retained its hold over it and several of the recommendations were not implemented in letter and spirit. However, initiatives in non-formal education, adult literacy, part-time education, and corresponding education became significant, visible and known.

The next major policy formulation was the National Policy on Education _ 1986. It focussed on deriving maximum benefit from the assets already created and ensured that the fruits of change reach all sections. Education was considered the highway to achieve that goal. It also records the need to give a new direction `to an age-old process'. The intervening period between 1968 and 1986 was marked by considerable education expansion in educational facilities, which reached more than 90 per cent of the country's rural habitation, having a learning centre within one km. It was felt that the 1968 policy was not translated into detailed strategy of implementation. This was amended by bringing out a Programme of Action 1986, which detailed out the specific strategies, programmes and initiatives to be taken up by both the Central and State Governments. Once again, the significance of school curriculum was realised and the NCERT brought out another Curriculum Framework in 1988 to respond to the new situation. The NCERT also noted that several issues like curriculum load became major concerns in the system. An attempt was made by the Ishwarbhai Patel Committee to examine some of these. This report did not receive much attention and support because it had recommended different levels of courses in mathematics and science at the secondary stage. A study conducted by the NCERT in 1983 analysed the various factors leading to curriculum load and a large number of failures in the school system and particularly pointed out the domination of public examinations which were responsible for depriving the pupils, the joy of learning. The curriculum framework 1988 emphasised the internalisation of the several concerns in the school curriculum in order to prepare better citizens for tomorrow. These included quality of education and opportunity, preservation of cultural heritage, constitutional obligations, strengthening of national identity and unity, character building and inculcation of values, development of global perception, protection of environment and conservation of natural resources and small family norms.

Both these curriculum frameworks were analysed by the State Governments and their professional agencies. They were generally accepted and appreciated. The subsequent development of textbooks by the NCERT on both the occasions also contributed immensely to similar exercises being undertaken in the States, which obviously kept in consideration the local specific issues and resources, and related curriculum contents. After 1988 it was expected that curriculum would be revised after every five years. This was emphasised in the policy formulation of 1992. However, NCERT could not undertake the exercise of bringing out the new curriculum framework or generating a new series of textbooks. Consequently there was consternation in school education system on the suitability of books and other materials developed in 1988 to be considered suitable and desirable in the year 2000! Based upon this professional requirement, the NCERT initiated the process of curriculum development in the second half of 1999 and placed the discussion document before the nation in January 2000, listing all the major concerns and issues which school education must respond to, based upon the experiences of the past and perceptions of the future.

The experience of the last five decades must alert the nation on the need for an honest implementation of educational policies and particularly to develop a curriculum for schools that would be "rooted in culture and committed to progress.'' The need to build a cohesive society based upon the pillars of equality, equity and relevance cannot be taken lightly. To achieve this, inclusion of indigenous knowledge and recognition, the contributions of Indian thinkers, scientists, creative persons and the communities need to be highlighted appropriately. It would inculcate the feeling of belonging to the nation and the sense of patriotism and nationalism tempered with the spirit of vasudhaiva kutumbakam. Issues like reducing the curriculum load, need for developing the integral personality of the learner, empowering teachers and meeting the challenges, the information and communication technology and globalisation can no longer be ignored.

The issues of character building on the one hand and that of integrating science and technology on the other shall have to be debated very seriously in the context of school education. The multiplicities and pluralities of Indian society leading to the inherent strength of the nation are to be internalised by every section of society.

Reforms in education would not necessarily follow if the process of change is not carefully scrutinised at every step. It needs to be understood very precisely that change does not necessarily lead to reform.

To achieve this one cannot be satisfied by merely being a part of change. The nation has to prepare itself to lead the change.

The Indian educational system needs a professional response from individuals, institutions, organisations and decision makers, irrespective of their personal likes and dislikes. Education is the key for India in becoming a superpower in the 21st Century.


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