'Will not interfere, rather facilitate': Director on new NCERT textbooks

Newly appointed director Dinesh Saklani plans to rely entirely on suggestions of professional historians to rectify NCERT textbooks.

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NCERT has created 25 national-level focus groups that are preparing position papers based on which new NCERT books will be made.NCERT has created 25 national-level focus groups that are preparing position papers based on which new NCERT books will be made.

R. Radhika | March 16, 2022 | 01:05 PM IST

NEW DELHI: The ministry of education recently appointed Dinesh Prasad Saklani as the new director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), India's top advisory body on the school curriculum. The appointment of Saklani, a historian, comes at a time when NCERT is in the process of developing a new national curriculum framework (NCF). Saklani spoke to Careers360 about his immediate priorities on designing the curriculum, representation of historical facts, and more.

Q. What is going to be your priority as the new director of NCERT?

A. I had been thinking about my responsibilities before joining this office. Right now, I have two main priorities. First, the National Education Policy is in the process of being implemented. It has to be done in a time-bound manner. The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) has to be designed based on which we have to design syllabus and bring out new books. For this, I am currently working towards the proper implementation of NEP policy in totality. Secondly, if we are to implement NEP in letter and spirit, we need vibrant institutions. For this, we need to re-energize NCERT. More than 50 percent of positions at NCERT are lying vacant. So, my second priority is to strengthen our institution to implement NEP 2020.

Also Read| NCERT Books: States preparing for NCF with surveys, discussions, also misgivings

Q. The national curriculum framework was last updated in 2005. In 2022, what according to you should be the prime focus while designing the new curriculum?

A. There is a steering committee led by K Kasturirangan [the former head of Indian Space Research Organisation] and there are 12 eminent personalities from varied fields in it. These people have together created a mandate based on which 25 focus groups have been created. These focus groups will create different position papers based on which the syllabus is designed. The committee will be creating guidelines for these position papers. I am yet to meet the committee members. My job will be to ensure that it follows the NEP.

Q. A parliamentary committee has made detailed suggestions on correcting issues with regard to “un-historical facts and distortions about our national heroes”. How will NCERT ensure fair representation of historical facts?

A. I have been a history professor but that was my past role. As the director of NCERT, I will create a committee of professional historians to check and correct these issues. I will not interfere in the committee’s functioning. I am a facilitator here and I cannot interfere in their work. I cannot impose my own ideas on them. I believe that the recommendations and suggestions of this committee should be considered final. The government should also accept these suggestions because they will be from a group of professional historians. They are competent to do that and I will respect their decision. In my position, I will just forward all questions that are raised in parliamentary questions or any formal direction to the committee and accept their decision on the matter.

Also Read| Correct or delete 'erroneous facts' from NCERT history textbooks: Parliamentary Panel

Q. Concerns were raised over the alleged representation of the Mughal era and underrepresented regional histories in books.

A. History is a field where we are discovering new developments, excavations, and the unearthing of facts. For example, Napoleon Bonaparte was considered to have died due to cancer but later a DNA test ascertained the fact that he was slowly poisoned. If we stick to what was written before then what is the point of new research? Tools and technology are developing rapidly and we are adopting them in sciences why not in social sciences? If facts are being ascertained by technology, we should accept those facts. If there are new discoveries backed by scientific technology and method then they should certainly be accepted. It’s not a professional historian’s mistake because they reported facts based on resources at their disposal. We [historians] base our facts based on archaeology which is also an ongoing process. For instance, the Harrapan scriptures which are yet to be translated and deciphered today show us new facts about civilization. Then we cannot say that it [syllabus] should not be updated. If we have new facts, we have to accept them. People misunderstand [how history develops] and create controversy. This is true not just for India but the whole world.

Also Read| Tripura launches workbooks for all classes to help students study at home: Report

Q. NCERT is trying to rationalise school books to reduce the burden on school children during the pandemic. How do you decide which portions to delete or keep?

A. Some of the work on rationalisation has already been done before I joined the office. As of now, we have asked for feedback from the states on how much of the syllabus was rationalised. Please understand that education comes under the concurrent list. We need to work along with the states on this matter. If we rationalise the syllabus up to 30% and the states rationalise 10% then higher secondary students who have to appear for university entrance tests will suffer.

The curriculum for science has already been finalized and gone into print. For now, I have asked my team to collect feedback from states as soon as possible. Along with this, we are also coordinating with universities to know how much of the syllabus will be asked in these entrance exams. Based on the feedback we receive; we are planning to rationalise the syllabus for higher secondary education.

For the upper primary school students, we are focusing on the psychological impact this lockdown has on children. While rationalising the syllabus, we will ensure that sequence, chronology, and coherency are not disturbed. At times we see there is repetition in lessons; we are trying to avoid such repetitions while maintaining the consistency of the syllabus.

Also Read|‘Rationalise department, teach courses in demand’: UGC to Central Universities

Q. The government is putting a lot of emphasis on digital learning at the school level. How do you define NCERT’s role in this scenario?

A. The role of NCERT is very crucial. We are currently in the process of developing an app for school children through which they can access the content. This app will work even in areas with poor internet connectivity. It is necessary that with time we adopt changes. We have received feedback that this app has given great results.

Q. Do you think digital learning will help students in overcoming learning losses of over two years?

A. Adoption of any new development happens over time. Technology in school learning is just like that. It takes time to get used to technology. We must walk with the changing times and adopt the technology. As and when the system becomes more technologically friendly, things will fall into place. At this point, there is a need to strike a balance, that is why we are endorsing blended learning. Naturally, in-person classrooms are much better for education but if there are difficulties in doing that we have to find solutions for it.

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