MOHAMMED MUSHKOH RAMISH
Education is integral to an individual’s self-development. Unsurprisingly, the quality and accessibility of education in a country has long been a metric by which its governments are judged. Therefore, the pedagogy used in teaching, the content of curriculum assigned in schools and the quality of textbooks provided to students, among other things, are often the subject of intense debate around the world. Textbook curriculum in particular is a contentious issue. The curriculum children are exposed to in their formative years may inform their value systems and outlook to the world, and in turn the kind of politics or ideologies they may subscribe to. Indeed, a 2005 report of a committee set up by the Ministry of Education recognised textbook curriculum as “a site of much contestation and conflicting interpretations,” and posited that “the content of our textbooks is a crucial disseminator of fundamental values,” (Government of India 2005).
School Curriculum Under NPE 1986
Prior to the NEP, the national policy on education being followed was a revised version of the New Policy on Education (NPE) 1986. School curriculum was based on an all-encompassing National Curricular Framework (NCF) which the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) was tasked with developing in line with the NPE. Meanwhile, the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) in each state, or the relevant state authority, was given the freedom to either make its own State Curricular Framework (SCF) modelled after the NCF, or follow the curriculum prescribed in the NCF. Textbooks were produced by NCERT in line with the NCF, but states were free to produce their own textbooks for their education boards if they chose to.
Interestingly, NPE 1986 was followed by as many as three different National Curricular Frameworks (1988, 2000 and 2005) – the most of any national policy on education to date.
School Curriculum Under NEP 2020
Like NPE 1986, NEP 2020 gives states the freedom to prepare their own curricula, which they are expected to model after the NCFs prepared by NCERT. However, the chronology of this process is not quite the same under the NEP. Whereas earlier State Curricular Frameworks (SCFs) was modelled after the NCF, they now precede it. Each state and union territory has been tasked with preparing four draft SCFs, one each about school education, early childhood care and education, teacher training, and adult education. Each of these will eventually be incorporated by NCERT and fed into the preparation of four NCFs proposed by the policy, one framework each corresponding to the four aforementioned areas (for our purposes, only the National Curricular Framework for School Education [NCFSE] is relevant).
In developing the NCFs, NCERT will hold discussions and take inputs from an array of stakeholders, including expert bodies, relevant departments of the central government, and state governments themselves, among others. It will also set up Curriculum Committees and National Focus Groups to look into curricular changes. After the four NCFs are finalised, states and union territories will in turn finalise their draft SCFs by adopting inputs from the final NCFs. Once finalised, the NCFSE will be revisited and revised once every five to ten years (Government of India 2021).
As for textbooks, the NEP tasks NCERT with preparing textbooks with a “curriculum reduced to its core essentials” based on the NCFSE. This will be aided by SCERTs, who have been tasked with setting up Syllabus and Textbook Development Teams which will look into where and how curriculum can be reduced and stripped down to core essentials. States may also choose to develop their own textbooks, but these cannot stray from the NCFSE or their respective State Curricular Framework for School Education [SCFSE].
School Curriculum and Politics
Despite NCERT being an autonomous body, there is significant government oversight in the entire curriculum-making process, thereby rendering it vulnerable to political bias. For instance, textbooks produced under the early Congress governments have been accused of espousing a Marxist view of Indian history (Danino 2015). In the same vein, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments at both the Centre and state have routinely been accused of including ahistorical material in school textbooks and presenting a “saffronised” view of events (Visweswaran et al. 2009). While state governments routinely revise textbook content to align them with their respective ideological persuasions, the early 2000s saw this being done at the national level with two NCFs being passed in relatively quick succession – both without a preceding policy statement (see Table 1).
|Prime Minister (Party)||Education Policy||Curricular Framework|
|Indira Gandhi (Congress)||NPE 1968||NCF 1975|
|Rajiv Gandhi (Congress)||NPE 1986||NCF 1988|
|P. V. Narasimha Rao (Congress)||NPE 1986 (revised)|
|Atal Bihari Vajpayee (BJP)||—||2000|
|Manmohan Singh (Congress)||—||2005|
|Narendra Modi (BJP)||NEP 2020||NCF 2022/2023|
Table 1: National policies on education with corresponding curricular frameworks.
Source: Compiled by author.
As discussed earlier, NCF 2000 reflected the ideology of the BJP and employed a “saffron” lens in formulating the curriculum (ibid., GoI 2005), while NCF 2005 was passed by the Congress government solely to revise the effects of its predecessor. Since neither framework was preceded by a policy statement, it is worrying that two successive curricular frameworks made within five years of each other through identical processes produced two starkly different NCFs.
NEP 2020 adds a greater degree of decentralisation to the NCF making process. It also makes it easier to fix implementational responsibility via the quadfurcation of the NCF. Yet, these changes do little to address the significant government oversight over the entire process. NEP 2020 too, with its cultural revivalist undertones, seems set to continue the trend of governments unduly influencing textbooks and curriculum. The government has already appointed multiple committees to oversee changes in curriculum and textbook content, and invited recommendations from the public for “removing references to un-historical facts and distortions about our national heroes from the textbooks;” and “ensuring equal proportionate references to all periods of Indian History” (Tandon 2021). It is worrying that the government is not consulting trained historians to remove supposed distortions from textbooks, but opting instead for public inputs. The Indian History Congress, the largest body of historians in India, has already expressed concern with the move, alleging that the exercise is not academic, but merely political (Jaiswal 2021). Recently, an NEP committee in the state of Karnataka recommended the removal of non-vegetarian items – an important source of nutrition for children in a country where an alarming ~3.3 million children suffer from malnutrition – from mid-day meals in schools across India. Relatedly, Madan Gopal, the head of a NEP task force set up by the Government of Karnataka described the Pythagoras theorem as “fake” and traced its origins to Vedic texts, citing Quora (a question-and-answer social network infamous for its odd and often dubious answers) as a source (Chhabra 2022). That such blatantly unscientific claims are finding place in position papers that shall help frame the NCF is beyond alarming.
Curriculum-making cannot be reduced to an exercise susceptible to political pressure, nor can textbooks continue to be a site for ideological battle. While it is true that nothing can be wholly free from bias, political or otherwise, it would be prudent to restrict the curriculum-framing process to NCERT and SCERTS. Both these bodies may act in consultation with civil society actors and reputed educationalists, with the entire process being open to public scrutiny.
As for textbook content, there is a clear need for an autonomous national body tasked solely with reviewing and regulating school textbook content. This may include checking if their content is factual, scientific, devoid of communal undertones and is in line with NCFSEs or the region’s SCFSE. To this end, one may borrow from a 2005 CABE report on regulating textbooks, which recommend the formation of an autonomous National Textbook Council independent of any actors involved in the preparation of textbooks, that may comprise of academics and members of civil society organisations (Government of India 2005).
Chhabra, Aarish. 2022. ‘”No Egg, No Meat For Kids”: Karnataka Education Panel Cites “Lifestyle Disorders”’, (https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/karnataka-education-panels-no-egg-no-meat-suggestion-cites-lifestyle-disorders-3161607) (posted 15 July 2012) (accessed 20 July 2022).
Danino, Michel. 2015. ‘Politics and the writing of textbook’, (https://www.teacherplus.org/
politics-and-the-writing-of-textbook-history/) (posted August 2015) (accessed 10 October 2021).
Government of India (GoI). 2005. Regulatory Mechanisms for Textbooks and Parallel Textbooks Taught in Schools Outside the Government System. Central Advisory Board of Education, Ministry of Education, GoI.
Government of India (GoI). 2021. Implementation Plan for New Education Policy 2020. Ministry of Education. GoI.
Jaiswal, Anuja. 2021. ‘IHC: Changes mooted in NCERT textbooks biased’, (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ihc-changes-mooted-in-ncert-textbooks-biased/articleshow/84489233.cms) (posted on 17 July 2021) (accessed on 10 October 2021).
Kidwai, Rasheed. 2019. ‘The politics of toxic textbooks: History isn’t repeated, its
history-isnt-repeated-its-rewritten-6000631.html) (posted on 2 February 2019) (accessed on 10 October 2021).
Tandon, Aditi. “Parliament Panel to Take up Textbook Changes.” The Tribune, 2021. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/parliament-panel-takes-up-textbook-changes-198265.
Visweswaran, Kamala., Michael Witzel., Nandini Manjrekar., Dipta Bhog and Uma Chakravarti. 2009. ‘The Hindutva view of history: Rewriting textbooks in India
and the United States.’ Geo. J. Int’l Aff. 10 (2009): 101.
 For instance, the government of Rajasthan is infamous for manipulating textbook content. See Kidwai (2019) for a brief summary of the same.
 The new four-part National Curricular Framework is currently being developed, and is expected to be completed in either 2022 or 2023.