Mainstream

Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2013 > A Tale of Two Curricular Reforms

Mainstream, VOL LI, No 26, June 15, 2013

A Tale of Two Curricular Reforms

Saturday 15 June 2013

by Manoj Kumar

Come July, and unless something extra-ordinary takes place, the University of Delhi is going to begin to implement its brand new Four Year Undergraduate Programme for the students who join the university this year. This, the university administration hopes, would also bring to an end an acrimonious opposition to the new course that has accompanied its formalisation. There is a general consensus, both among the proponents and opponents of the new course, that this is a significant and historic change in the long life of the university. A few years back in 2005, the National Council for Educational Research and Training (henceforth NCERT) undertook a similar overhaul of the school curriculum framework. The document, which emerged from this process, is known as the National Curriculum Framework 2005 (henceforth NCF 2005). A full-fledged comparison will not be valid for numerous reasons. Nevertheless, important lessons can be learnt by drawing a parallel between the processes followed by the NCERT and University of Delhi.

The Criticism

The university’s proposal to replace the existing three-year undergraduate degree with a four-year programme with exit options after the second, third and fourth years of study has attracted criticism from within the university and beyond. A majority of interlocutors from within and outside the university base their criticism on the ground that the change has not been preceded by any conceptual deliberation and that the university administration has pushed the change with an unfathomable procedural hastiness. This lack of deliberation on the basic conceptual terrain of the new course has resulted in a curriculum that lacks direction, and will potentially smother instead of sharpening the analytical faculties of the students. (Bhan, 2013) (Lahiri, 2013)

The university administration, on its part, has dismissed all such criticism as being motivated by ideological and personal considerations, and claims that all internal procedures were followed while bringing about the change. Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh, whenever he has chosen to speak, has mainly articulated the employability argument, that is to say, how unemployable the students of the existing undergraduate degrees are and how employable the future students of the new degree on offer would be.

A certain degree of opposition and acrimony is only expected as curricular planning is a moral-political contestation and negotiation at the intellectual terrain. This is inevitable as the process of selecting, organising and validating knowledge for upcoming generations is never purely an epistemic exercise. It is also an act of moral-political judgement. So the debate accompanying the proposal to introduce the Four Year Undergraduate Programme by the university is not only expected but the university administration should have anticipated it. Furthermore, the university should have provided platforms on which competing voices should have been heard and a structured debate could have taken place. Contrary to that, the university administration has adopted a legalistic and procedural view on the issue, getting the new courses passed without any serious deliberation whatsoever.

All Formal Requirements Complied With

Let us first try to reconstruct the process that has culminated in the introduction of the Four Year Undergraduate Programme (henceforth FYUP). According to the claims made by the university administration, the changes in undergraduate courses were first mooted in 2008 along with the semester system. The Academic Council then decided to focus on rolling out the semester system as its first priority and taking up the issue of the FYUP later. The proposal to implement the FYUP got momentum once again in the Academic Congress organised by the university in September 2012 and inaugurated by Dr Sam Pitroda. A resolution was passed in the Academic Congress that called for changing the existing undergraduate programme into a four-year programme. On December 24, on Christmas eve, when the university was closed for the winter break, a ‘special’ meeting of the Academic Council was held. The Academic Council approved the proposal to change the structure of the undergraduate courses from the existing three years to a four-year one. According to newspaper reports, the agenda items of the meeting were circulated barely two days before this historic meeting. (outlookindia.com, 2013) The Christmas eve Academic Council meeting was followed by the Boxing Day meeting of the Executive Council (December 26, 2012). It approved the changes to be made in the undergraduate programmes.

After couple of months of quiet confusion, on March 5, 2013, various university departments received letters from the university asking them to reframe the syllabus of all the courses in line with the proposed four-year programme. The task was to be completed in two weeks, by March 20. The university later informally extended the deadline by a month. That the task was completed in time was evident from the fact that the two highest statutory bodies of the university—the Academic and Executive Councils —met again on May 7-8 and 9, 2013 respectively and passed the entire gamut of syllabi to be taught to the students joining undergraduate courses from the academic year beginning in July. According to a member of the Academic Council, more than one thousand papers and 89 courses were passed on the first day of the meeting itself. (The Business Line, 2013) A press release issued by the Registrar of the university triumphantly declared that with these approvals (of the Academic and Executive Councils), “all formal requirements as per the University of Delhi Act, statues and ordinances have been complied with and the university is all set to launch the programme”. (du.ac.in) This assertion underlines that procedural-legal understanding of the university administration of the process of curricular change.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the university has not bothered itself too much with the conceptual and academic issues surrounding curriculum and curriculum changes. There is not even a concept note on the new course structure in the public domain. Until recently there were three pamphlets for the prospective students on the university website. Each pamphlet consists of two pages. In addition, there is a power-point presentation on the course structure of the FYUP. Recently, course contents of some of the foundation courses have also been put on the website. (Four Year UG Programme)

NCF 2005 : Deliberations and Documents

Let us now contrast the approach adopted by Delhi University with that of the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT). The NCERT brought out the National Curriculum Framework for School Education in 2005. One may have some issues with the curricular design currently guiding the teaching and learning in the CBSE affiliated schools, but the amount of intellectual labour invested in creating the NCF 2005 set a benchmark in terms of procedural rigour. Altogether twentyone Focus Groups were constituted to deliberate upon various areas of curriculum. (NCFs and National Focus Group Position Papers) While some of them looked into overarching educational issues like ‘aims of education’, ‘examination reform’, ‘teacher education’, ‘gender issues in curriculum’, others were organised on the lines of school subjects like Mathematics, Social Sciences, Language, etc.

There were twelve to fifteen members in each focus group representing subject experts, teachers, grassroot volunteers and NCERT faculties. The deliberations of these focus groups culminated in Position Papers which, taken together, span over five hundred pages. These twentyone position papers culminated in a document called the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 which alone runs through one hundred forty pages. The NCFacted as the conceptual bedrock for the structuring of the course content and the textbooks that eventually came out of the entire exercise. Remarkably, all these position papers and the NCF document are available online for public scrutiny.

FYUP and its Implications for Curricular Discourse in India

The curricular change in the Delhi University will have immediate effect on its prospective students, their parents and teachers. But it is a matter of general concern for the academic community and civil society that the DU has not only failed to make use of the deliberative academic space carved out during the concep-tualisation of the NCF, but has in fact circumvented it a great deal. The argument of institutional autonomy of a university in academic matters should not inhibit a vibrant public university from an active engagement with the academic community within its fold and outside.

The argument of autonomy of a university should also not cloud the fact that universities are part of the larger ecosystem of public education in India. It is not a good idea to run school and university education systems with somewhat divergent curricular objectives and pedagogic processes. It is even worse if two systems do not make any sincere attempt to engage with each other.

The NCF 2005 set some curricular objectives for the school education in India after more than a decade long deliberations in academic and public domains. The starting-point of this debate can be traced back to the ‘Learning without Burden’ Report (1992-93) prepared by a committee chaired by Prof Yash Pal. The NCF 2005 nuanced this curriculum discourse by complementing this apparently learner-centric approach to the curriculum with underlining the need to initiate a learner in the process of construction and validation of knowledge in different disciplines. (NCF 2005) This is Dewey’s idea of two-dimensional curriculums which asks the curricular designer to negotiate between the psychological aspects of the learner and the logical aspects of bodies of knowledge in different disciplines. (Tanner, Laurel N, 1991) The third dimension of curriculum could be social which poses the radical challenge to the neutral epistemic basis of these disciplines and brings out the point that these disciplines are socially and historically constructed and usually help in constituting and maintaining certain power structure in society. (Gender Issues in Eucation)

The NCF 2005 at least flags these pulls and pressures in curriculum planning, if not resolve all of them forever. Any further attempt of curricular reform needs to enrich this discourse. It is not unfair to assess the DU FYUP proposal with this expectation. The FYUP proposal should have either chosen to align its curricular objectives with those of the NCF 2005 or persuasively proposed to reconsider and reframe some of these. Overlooking the existing school curriculum altogether is like unwittingly messing up the educational ecosystem of the country. Intellectual deliberation is the key in this case and the value framework of the Indian Constitution should be the prime arbiter in all such deliberations.

The four questions framed by Ralph W. Tylor long back in 1949 are a good starting-point for any deliberation on curriculum:

“1. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?

2. What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?

3. How can these educational purposes be effectively organised?

4. How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained?” (Tylor, 1949)

Aims of Education in NCF 2005

The first Tylarian question has been dealt in the NCF 2005 as aims of education. The NCF clearly puts a few conditions of accepting any value as an education aim. “The aims of education simultaneously reflect the

current needs

and aspirations of a society as well as its

lasting values

, and the immediate concerns of a community as well as broad human ideals. At any given time and place they can be called the contemporary and contextual articulations of broad and lasting human aspirations and values.”(National Curriculum Framework 2005, p. 10. Emphasis added)

Based on these two parameters, the NCF 2005 has proposed the following aims of education:

• “The first is a commitment to democracy and the values of equality, justice, freedom, concern for others’ well-being, secularism, respect for human dignity and rights. Education should aim to build a commitment to these values, which are based on reason and understanding. The curriculum, therefore, should provide adequate experience and space for dialogue and discourse in the school to build such a commitment in children.”

• “Choices in life and the ability to participate in democratic processes depend on the ability to contribute to society in various ways. This is why education must develop the ability to work and participate in economic processes and social change. This necessitates the integration of work with education. We must ensure that work-related experiences are sufficient and broadbased in terms of skills and attitudes that they foster an understanding of socio-economic processes, and help inculcate a mental frame that encourages working with others in a spirit of cooperation. Work alone can create a social temper.”

• “Appreciation of beauty and art forms is an integral part of human life. Creativity in arts, literature and other domains of knowledge is closely linked. Education must provide the means and opportunities to enhance the child’s creative expression and the capacity for aesthetic appreciation.” (National Curriculum Framework 2005, pp. 10-11)

Aims of Education in DU FYUP

Though there is no systematic articulation of the aims of education in the available documents of the DU FYUP, enhancing employability of graduates is being propagated as the prime objective of this curricular reform. Employability can be a legitimate aim of education, but instead of making it a semantically rich concept which can illuminate the deeper understanding of relationship between education and work, the FYUP documents simply flirt with the idea of suitability of the DU graduates in certain segments of the current job market. One can only guess the types of employers with whom the DU VC sounded out 11,000 CVs of DU graduates and found that the success rate was pathetically low, that is, three out of 11,000. The data appears daunting, but unfortunately there is no way to know the procedural rigour which has yielded this data. Do these companies represent the entire range of potential employers? What if half of these companies disappear or are swayed away with a wave of creative destruction of capital by the time the DU produces its graduates under the new programme? What about the representative sampling on prospective employers? One has to remember that the country still needs to recruit administrators, teachers, carrier diplomats, social scientists, researches etc. on a regular basis. Unfortunately curricular restructuring is being rolled out on the basis of anecdotal evidences and with hazy commonsensical understanding.

The important question to ask is: Will the restructured curriculum equip the learners with the necessary generic ability to construct knowledge in a particular discipline like mathematics or science as per the emergent needs? Or are the reformers merely aiming to arm the graduates with some disjointed-discrete knowledge and skill-set which, they believe, will make the graduates suitable for certain segments of current employers? Nothing can be more misleading in this regard than proposing a foundation course containing a discrete list of topics to be transacted.

In short, each discipline has its own distinctive epistemic foundation. Giving understanding of this foundation to a learner and providing her/him with the opportunity to construct and validate knowledge by applying the correct method should be the main focus of the foundational areas of the curriculum. Only this kind of foundational understanding of discipline will prepare a learner for lifelong learning and undertaking tasks of multidisciplinary and inter-disciplinary nature. The proposed foundation courses belie this expectation. Through their discrete course content, they hope to address the needs of one particular segment of current employers. What about building employability for an unpredictable, unforeseen future job market by empowering them with some generic disciplinary knowledge and skills along with disposition to learn as per the future needs?

The NCF 2005 particularly emphasises this need: “Learning to learn and the willingness to unlearn and relearn are important as means of responding to new situations in a flexible and creative manner. The curriculum needs to emphasise the processes of constructing knowledge.” (National Curriculum Framework 2005, p. 11)

Clearly, employability—the sole stated aim of current reforms—is not being addressed comprehensively even as a

current need,

as it is based on anecdotal evidence gathered from a segment of potential employers. ,

To propose ‘employability’ as a lasting societal value one needs to frame it in a very different language. For this purpose, one needs to acknowledge human beings as creative and productive entities who realise their essence in the process of labour. Nurturing creative and productive impulses of a learner by providing meaningful educational experience will be the responsibility of the education system. Also one needs to empower the learner with the critical faculty of analysis, so that she/he can analyse the power structure of society which sustains or hinders the productive impulses of human beings. This may lead to a notion of ‘employability’ as a cherished and

lasting value

of society. The notion of employability emerging from the current DU curricular discourse is too narrow to be called an educational aim.

Constitutional Ideals and Curricular Aims

Let us assume that ‘employability’ is one valid aim of education, but one such educational aim is not sufficient for shaping the curriculum meaningfully. There can be one prime aim of education, but an entire curricular enterprise cannot be organised around a singular aim. Wittingly or unwittingly education messes up with an entire value framework of a society. It contains a notion of human nature and a vision of desirable society. Curricular planners either consciously reflect and organise deliberation on the various articulated and tacit aspects of this framework or habitually accept the dominant value framework without any reflection and deliberation.

The NCF claims to derive its framework from the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution. It also organised deliberations and collective reflection before determining the general educational aims which, in turn, shaped the school curriculum. Before the DU FYUP proposal attempts to answer the second, third and fourth Tylarian questions, it has to face the first question thoroughly. The DU FYUP should have built on the NCF experience and should have deepened the process of deliberation. Unfortunately it didn’t. As a public institution it cannot shy away from its responsibility towards the entire ecosystem of educational institutions in India.

References

Retrieved from du.ac.in: http://www.du.ac.in/fileadmin/DU/DUCorner/pdf/09052013pr.pdf

(2013, May 6). Retrieved from outlookindia.com: http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?285080

The Business Line (2013, May 8). Retrieved from http://www.thehindubusinessline.com: http://www.thehindu businessline.com/industry-and-economy/education/delhi-university-council-passes-fouryear-courses-in-28-departments/article4694861.ece

Bhan, G. (2013, May), epw.in. Retrieved from http://www. epw.in/debating-du/liberal-education-road-not-taken.html

Four Year UG Programme (n.d.). Retrieved from du.ac.in: http://web4.du.ac.in/FYUP/FoundationCourses.html

Gender Issues in Eucation (n.d.). Retrieved May 20, 2013, from ncert.nic.in: http://www.ncert.nic.in/new_ncert/ncert/rightside/links/pdf/focus_group/gender_issues_in_education.pdf

Lahiri, N. (2013, May 19). Retrieved from timesofindia. indiatimes.com: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-05-19/delhi/39369309_1_indian-history-toolkit-hrd-ministry

National Curriculum Framework 2005, Delhi: NCERT.

NCFs and National Focus Group Position Papers (n.d.). Retrieved May 20, 2013, from ncert.nic.in: http://www.ncert.nic.in/rightside/links/focus_group.html

Tanner, Laurel N. (1991), “The Meaning of Curriculum in Dewey’s Laboratory School (1896-1904)”, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 23(2), 101-107.

Tylor, R. W. (1949), Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. Chicago and London : The University of Chicago Press.

Manoj Mishra is an education professional and researcher, has worked with Digantar, Azim Premji Foundation and University, and is currently with Room to Read.

Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.