‘Will benefit rich students’: NCF 2023 must address India’s unequal schooling, says RTE Forum

Draft NCF 2023: RTE Forum advocates for greater state say; it says the current structure lacks the resources for equitable application of NCF.

The forum said that the draft NCF 2023 and its push for vocational education will undo decades of progressive steps (Image: Wikimedia Commons)The forum said that the draft NCF 2023 and its push for vocational education will undo decades of progressive steps (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Atul Krishna | June 24, 2023 | 01:40 PM IST

NEW DELHI: The Right to Education Forum, one of the largest civil society organisations of educationists and education activists, has recommended that the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) focus on addressing the risks posed by uneven schooling standards in India.

The forum also said that the NCF 2023 fails to suggest “concrete measures” in ensuring child rights and correcting gender inequality in the educational setting. The draft NCF was released by the education ministry in April.

The forum criticised that the NCF is introducing various subject options for students without ensuring that all the different schooling boards, such as state boards and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), are brought to a “universal standard”. It said that introducing such options in an unequal education system will only benefit the rich and elite students.

It also said that the current system neither has the teaching force nor the infrastructure to bring about these changes.

NCF 2023 and curriculum choice

“The prioritisation of curriculum choice in such unequal educational contexts risks exacerbating inequality. Given the shortage of staff and facilities and the continued under-investment in education, most schools, particularly those in rural areas, are unlikely to offer the same choice of disciplines available to rich students in elite schools. Implementing such a flexible system will require the intake of a huge number of teachers and a significant upgrading of the education infrastructure,” the forum said.

The draft NCF has proposed a semester system for Class 12 students and the option to write board exams twice. The draft also proposed to do away with traditional ways of classifying disciplines into science, commerce, and humanities streams, replacing them with broader curricular areas from which students can choose from.

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The RTE Forum argued that such a system will create a “two-track” education system in which marginalised students and girls will be pushed out of school and into child labour in the name of vocational education.

“While the NCF talks about the criticality of having a flexible education system, we are deeply concerned that this will not be realised given the reality of resource constraints and would instead contribute to the legitimation of a two-track education system with those from poor and marginalised communities being pushed into the vocational track and from there into caste and gender stereotyped occupations,” the forum said.

‘Push girls and marginalised communities out’

It said that the NCF’s push for vocational education might undo decades of “progressive steps” to promote access to education in schools.

“Vocational education as outlined in the chapter risks further pushing girls and children from marginalised communities out of school before they even explore their interests or potential and deepen the existing caste-class-gender bias and inequalities in education and be a step away from the progressive steps that have been taken since independence to promote education access in school and higher education and reduce educational inequalities,” it said.

It also said that although the NCF acknowledges India’s diverse heritage, it “does not explicitly address the need for representation and inclusivity of marginalised groups, including Dalits, tribal communities, and religious minorities”.

‘Give greater space to states’

The forum also said that the NCF should give “greater space for states” to evolve their approaches in local culture, knowledge and languages. It said that the current draft of the NCF is “prescriptive” and spells out policy in “minute details” instead of broad policy guidelines that help the state government make their position papers. The forum said that the final version of NCF should be “shorter, highlight the critical points and simultaneously be flexible”.

The forum asks the policy makers to “value the latest knowledge, irrespective of its source”. It said that while it is good that the document highlights the importance of local knowledge and Indianness, knowledge has become globalised since the Industrial Revolution and that students should aspire for the “highest standards globally”.

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“Knowledge has become universal since the Industrial Revolution and especially now in the age of the internet. It is good that children should know about India’s contribution to the world. At the same time, the child should also learn to critically appraise India’s weaknesses so that she will learn from past mistakes and find out a way for the future,” the forum said.

The forum also said that the document should strengthen the education system and improve community participation by spelling out the roles of the concerned officials.

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