Chapter II - Policies, Curricula, Syllabi and Textbooks

Published on: April 1, 2009
Educational Policies

Educational policies are prepared by committees set up by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). These are approved by the CABE and also tabled for approval in both houses of Parliament. Several major committees have been set up since independence: the Secondary Education Commission (1952-53), Education and National Development (1964-66), National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986 and Programme of Action (POA) 1992. The Review Committee of the NPE 1986, known as the Acharya Ramamoorthy Committee (1990), reviewed the NPE 1986 and the Yash Pal Committee’s ‘Learning Without Burden’ (1994) suggests ways of reducing curricular load.

 

The National Curriculum Frameworks

Curriculum development, syllabus design and the preparation of instructional materials, including textbooks and their evaluation, began with the emergence of the NCERT as a nodal agency at the national level in the area of school education. The NCERT was involved directly in the process of curriculum development and preparation of textbooks. As the State Institutes of Education (SIEs), State Textbook Boards and State Councils of Educational Research and Training (SCERTs) were established, these gradually followed the pattern of providing technical support to research and development activities underlying the formulation and the preparation of textbooks at the state/union territory levels.

1. At the central level, based on education policy, a National Curriculum Framework (NCF) is brought out by the NCERT. Since independence, three NCFs have been framed on the basis of the recommendations of the two major committees, 1968 and 1986. The NCF framed in 2000 is the only NCF that was framed without a policy statement preceding it.

2. The NPE 1986 defines the NCF as follows: "The national system of education will be based on a national curricular framework which contains a common core along with other components that are flexible." Common core has been defined by the NPE as follows: history of India’s freedom movement; constitutional obligations; promotion of values such as India’s common cultural heritage; egalitarianism; democracy and secularism; equality of the sexes; protection of the environment; removal of social barriers; observance of the small family norm; inculcation of the scientific temper. Textbooks which seek to fulfil curriculum objectives must reflect the above-mentioned aspects of the ‘core’.

3. The NCF 2000 makes fundamental departures from the earlier NCFs and policies in respect of the role of values, the place of religion, equality of educational opportunity, etc. These departures generated wide controversy both with regard to (a) the process of preparation and (b) content of the NCF.

4. The Executive Committee of the NCERT in its meeting of July 19, 2004 decided to initiate a review of the National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE) 2000. It decided to form five structures to undertake the NCF review. These structures are: the National Steering Committee; National Focus Group; Committee for Consultation with States; Research Unit; Coordination Committee. The National Steering Committee chaired by Professor Yash Pal has members including scholars from different disciplines, principals and teachers, representatives of NGOs and members of the NCERT faculty. The Committee is deliberating on all aspects of the school curriculum, taking into account the existing framework. The final review document will be presented to the Executive Committee of the NCERT and the Council of the General Body for discussion and approval, and ultimately to the CABE.

Following the curriculum framework, syllabi for the primary, middle, secondary and senior secondary stages are also prepared. The syllabi assume great importance, as this sets out both the content contours and topics on the basis of which the Examination Boards set questions for examinations. The syllabi are therefore more familiar documents among teachers, parents and students than the policy or the curriculum framework. There are many Boards in the country but most states have their own Examination Boards in addition to the CBSE and Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) Boards. Each Board prescribes its own syllabi. It may or may not adhere to the NCERT syllabi.

The textbook is a major educational tool for students. In India, textbooks occupy most of the educational space in schools. They are not just teaching manuals, they shape the minds of children in their formative years and have a profound influence on how young minds interpret reality. For this reason the content of textbooks or instructional material is a deeply contentious issue in several countries around the world. Indeed questions of curriculum and textbooks are so contested because they are at the heart of debates over national identity and over who will define and control what is worth knowing. This is probably why in a country as diverse as ours the issue of textbooks is a site of much contestation and conflicting interpretations. In one sense, the content of our textbooks is a crucial disseminator of fundamental values of citizenship, values that we need to pass on to the next generation. Thus the content of textbooks is of vital importance and has a significant impact on the educational development of students.

 

Types of Schools

Schools and school systems in India are a bewildering array of structure and functioning. Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVs) are primarily meant for children of central government officers who are posted all over India. They are affiliated to the CBSE which prescribes the syllabus and the NCERT textbooks. They function from Class I to Class XII. Navodaya Vidyalayas (NVs) are centrally managed and are meant for talented children from the rural areas and function from Classes VI to XII. They are also affiliated to the CBSE and use NCERT textbooks.

Private unaided schools are also affiliated to the CBSE and form a very influential group in the system. They use NCERT textbooks from Class IX onwards and function from preschool to Class XII. Private aided schools receiving aid from state governments are affiliated to the CBSE or State Boards.

Christian missionary schools are affiliated to the ICSE, CBSE and State Boards. In the past few years the International Baccalaureate has made significant inroads among elite private schools.

The majority of children study in schools run by the state government. These are affiliated to their own State Boards and use textbooks prescribed and prepared by their own state bodies, usually the State Institutes of Education or SCERTs.

Alternate schools under many names are also run under the SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan). They have textbooks, workbooks, worksheets and teaching-learning materials prepared by the SSA/DPEP (District Primary Education Programme).

There are lakhs of private unrecognised primary schools all over the country, for preschool to Class V/VIII. The textbooks used in these schools are more often than not low priced, low quality kunjis or ‘guides’.

There are also small primary schools run by several social and religious organisations which are not affiliated to any agency.

Then there is the National Institute of Open Schooling which has its own Board of Examinations and prepares and prescribes its own books. State Open Schools are run along the same lines as the National Open Schools.1

 

Curriculum Framework, Syllabi and Textbooks

With the adoption of the 10+2 pattern as recommended by the Education Commission (1964-66), the NCERT developed supporting syllabi and textbooks to be used as models by the states and union territories. Most states excepting the newly formed ones and the union territories have their own Examination Boards, similar to the CBSE, which are known as State Boards. The respective State Directorates along with the SCERTs prepare textbooks which are then printed by the Textbook Bureaus in states at a highly subsidised price.

The most important issue is with regard to textbooks and related literature used in schools run by religious and social organisations

The NCERT has brought out three sets of syllabi so far: in 1975, 1988 and 2002. Although the NCERT frames the syllabi, it is the CBSE that prescribes syllabi which are valid for purposes of examination and certification for schools affiliated to the CBSE. State Boards prescribe the syllabi and textbooks for schools affiliated to them. However, private schools do not necessarily follow the Board-prescribed syllabi and textbooks till Class VIII.

Non-NCERT, non-CBSE-prescribed textbooks constitute the majority of textbooks in use in the country. A detailed account of institutional mechanisms in the states for textbook preparation is given in the next chapter.

There are large numbers of textbooks published by the private sector. Non-government schools are free to choose publications, including those published by the private sector. Some of the elite schools use books produced by private publishers such as Oxford University Press, Ratna Sagar and Maktaba Jamia.2 Selection of textbooks from private publishers is dependent on the school, which generally invites publishers to bring the books before a committee of teachers to decide. Many incentives are offered by publishers to schools, which could range from price cuts to a percentage of total cost of books supplied being made over to the school.3 A measure of state patronage for them can be discerned from the fact that seminars and workshops for teachers, held by state bodies, are ‘sponsored’ by these publishers.4 However, the point is that these private publishers cannot be wished away legally. Every publisher has a right to publish and if parents choose to select the textbooks for their children to read, there is not much that can be done.

The most important issue is with regard to textbooks and related literature used in schools run by religious and social organisations which have a large outreach and impact. Some schools i.e. Saraswati Shishu Mandirs,6 Ekal Vidyalayas, Pathshalas, Madrassas, etc run by respective religious and social organisations follow their own curricula and books. Some of them use this route to promote ideologies that often contradict the basic principles and vision of the Constitution and educational policies.8 There is no mechanism to regulate the content of the textbooks used by these organisations or to prevent them from publishing and distributing them. They seek recognition neither from the state nor any examining Board. The Policy of Non-Formal Education (1986) enables any organisation to run non-formal centres. If they do not receive state funds, they are not governed by the state. They continue to run their ‘centres’ with books of their choice. When children are ready, they are registered with the Open School and obtain their certification.9

 

Some Important Issues

As there is no state-level curriculum statement, it is presumed that the syllabi adhere to the core elements of the NCF (which is the expectation of the NCF). No serious scrutiny of the extent of adherence to the core curriculum of state syllabi has been conducted so far.

Textbooks and curricula in schools run by religious and social organisations and schools not aided by the state are not regulated in any form by state agencies. Their adherence to constitutional provisions and educational policies is an issue of major concern and this has been discussed in Chapter IV on the social content of textbooks.

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Notes

1 Information from Note submitted by Janaki Rajan, Director, SCERT, New Delhi, to the CABE Committee.
2 Founded by Jamia Millia Islamia, the Maktaba Jamia is a private limited company with the Jamia Millia Islamia having an 80 per cent financial stake in the company.
3 Ibid.
4 Publishers also offer to underwrite seminar and other expenses of the schools. This is apart from the usual calendars, diaries, posters, stationery offered free to schools. Ibid.
6 An umbrella organisation, Vidya Bharati was founded in 1977 and at that time it ran 700 schools. In 2003 it had 14,000 schools, 73,000 teachers and 1.7 million pupils. "In 1991 Vidya Bharati claimed it was running the second largest chain of schools in the country, next only to the government schools." Information given in Christophe Jaffrelot, ed. The Sangh Parivar: A Reader, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, p. 6 and p. 199 respectively.
8 On schools and textbooks used in Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, Ekal Vidyalayas, etc see Tanika Sarkar, ‘Educating the Children of the Hindu Rashtra: Notes on RSS Schools’ in Christophe Jaffrelot, ed. The Sangh Parivar: A Reader; Teesta Setalvad, ‘How textbooks teach prejudice’, Communalism Combat, October 1999; Teesta Setalvad, ‘Gujarat: Situating the Saffronisation of Education’ in The Saffron Agenda In Education, Sahmat, New Delhi, 2001; Nalini Taneja, ‘Communalisation of Education: Taking Stock Again’, People’s Democracy, No. 43, October 2003.
9 Janaki Rajan’s Note submitted to the CABE Subcommittee.

Archived from Communalism Combat,  April 2009 Year 15    No.139, Report of the CABE Committee, Policies, Curricula, Syllabi and Textbooks