The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) has taken a big swing at education reform, and though its recommendations are not binding, they are likely to have a far-reaching impact on India’s school education. NCF has made three key suggestions — two Indian languages as compulsory subjects in Class IX and Class X and one in Class XI and Class XII; a semester system for Class XI and Class XII with the option to sit for board examinations twice a year and retain the best score; and the freedom to choose subjects from arts, sciences, and humanities in these two classes.
A 19-member panel will use the recommendations to finalise the curriculum, textbooks and learning material. NCF’s language recommendations are in line with the National Education Policy (NEP), which included a thrust on Indian languages. But with a wide gamut of languages offered as options, it might not spark the same kind of controversy that NEP did (when some states saw it as a backdoor attempt to increase the primacy of Hindi in schools), though it will require some serious capacity building on the part of schools, most of which are currently ill-equipped to offer the bouquet of language choices that NCF envisions. The recommendations on board examinations will have a more direct impact on student life. Designed to allow a pupil to get tested within a short period of studying a particular topic, the new system might reduce the pressure on students. The world over, continuous evaluation is seen as a more holistic appraisal of a student’s learning. At the same time, the push for reforming examinations should be geared towards making them more insightful and moving students away from rote learning, not merely making them easier. With the advent of the Common University Entrance Test (CUET), the importance of board exams has eroded, and hence, any impulse to help students will have to take into account reforms in CUET, and ensure that examinations are fairer and less reliant on factual recall skills.
It is up to the states to act on these suggestions. It is almost a given that the Central Board of Secondary Education, with 28,000-odd schools under its wing, will move to a version of the new system soon, putting the pressure on at least some state boards to follow suit. Education reform is a national priority for an India that hopes to make the most of its demographic bulge by educating its young people well, without unduly burdening or pigeonholing them. NCF represents a serious attempt at that.
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