HT interview: Only repetitive, mischievous topics removed from books, says Dharmendra Pradhan
In an interview with HT, Pradhan also said that a focus on mother tongue in early childhood education is necessary in a country such as India.
Union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan has said that the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has removed repetitive and “mischievous” topics from textbooks during its rationalisation-of-curriculum exercise, and stressed that “social conflict” and “disharmony” should not find a place in academia.
In an interview with Fareeha Iftikhar and Sunetra Choudhury on Thursday, Pradhan also said that a focus on mother tongue in early childhood education is necessary in a country such as India where the majority of young people are not connected with the English language. He said that English should not become a barrier to research, production and being part of the global supply chain. Pradhan also emphasised that board exams will continue to be a part of India’s education system even as he stressed that assessment will not be done solely on the basis of these exams. Edited excerpts:
The government has completed nine years. What are its key achievements in the education sector?
After 34 years, the Modi government brought a new National Education Policy (NEP) and successfully implemented it. It was the need of the country to ensure equal access to quality education for all. It was required to ensure gender equality and affordability. The policy is forward-looking and envisages preparing global citizens and a modern society. It is based on the philosophy of rootedness and futuristic approach. The policy is well-received, and philosophically there is no opposition to NEP 2020 from any state. Now, with the implementation of NEP, we are confident that India is in a position to take the lead in several vertices in the global sphere of education. We are moving in the right direction.
Why is there so much emphasis on Indian Knowledge Systems (IKS) in the sector? A section of people call it going back in time.
The fundamental of the Indian knowledge system is accepting the change and change is related to contemporary society. It is a very scientific, complementary, and forward-looking thought process. We are not answerable to anyone’s intellectual inability.
There has been criticism over the recent rationalisation exercise of NCERT textbooks. Some former NCERT experts have even disassociated themselves with the present books. What is your view on that?
The last set of books were developed by NCERT in 2006. Though there were some amendments in those books occasionally, they continued till pre-Covid times. However, amid the pandemic, a global consensus was formed that there was a need to reduce the burden on students, and NCERT, as an autonomous entity, rationalised the syllabus. The council mostly rationalised the topics that were repetitive. This rationalised content was taught last academic year as well but some people are opposing it after 16-17 months. There is some political angle in it. Some people are intolerant to this popular government. They don’t need a reason to oppose the government. There are short-sighted people.
But when you say political, many felt that the deletion of topics related to Mahatma Gandhi and his assassin, Nathuram Godse, was a political choice.
NCERT has not only rationalised repetitive topics, but it has also removed some mischievous topics. The new generation of the country should not learn divisive ideas from textbooks. Why should social conflict and disharmony be a part of India’s academics? But all this is old now. We are now focussing on the new National Curriculum Framework (NCF).
What is the status of NCF?
The steering committee has completed 90% of the NCF work, and only some editing work is left. The committee will soon submit its report. The uniqueness of NEP 2020 and its follow-up implementation is that nothing is secret or behind closed doors. Everything was released in public domain for wider consultation. Even the NCF remained in the domain for a long time. We have received thousands of suggestions and now they will also be incorporated into it. NCF will be the basis of tentatively 150 subjects meant for classes 3 to 12. The books will also be produced in all scheduled languages.
At a time when CUET has already been introduced for college admission, will we still have board exams?
These are two different things. In our country, we need board examinations for knowledge validation. But under NEP 2020, the assessment will not be limited to examinations. The policy emphasises on the holistic assessment of students. It says that assessment should not be limited to examinations as it will only promote rote learning. Therefore, NEP emphasises on taking other things, including sports and skills, under the assessment process.
When do we expect Higher Education Council of India (HECI) to become a reality?
HECI is now taking its final shape. We are taking it forward in a consultation process. We don’t want to do anything in haste. It will then be placed before the cabinet and then it will further go to committees for consultations.
The Centre has been pushing for the use of mother tongue in education. Is there a concern of us losing our edge over countries such as China in the number of English speakers?
Less than 10% of the youth in India are acquainted with English. The formulators of NEP 2020 suggested teaching young children in their mother tongue, because their critical thinking skills develop at that age. It will help them understand things better. Besides, language cannot be a barrier in research, production and global supply chain. And, we are talking about our mother tongue. There is no regional language. It is a divisive strategy of some politicians. Prime Minister Modi has changed it.
The new narrative is that all languages are national languages and no language is superior or inferior to other languages. It is an issue of narrative. It is a colonial mindset. We need to break it. We are not stopping teaching English as well. But if we need to bring students from the bottom of the pyramid and mainstream them, then we need to teach them in their mother tongue or local language.
There have been spate of suicides among students preparing for NEET and JEE and students in premier higher education institutions. Do you think India’s entrance exam system and also the system at premier institutions need reforms?
Every system needs continuous reform and our government is a reformist one. It is a serious issue and we need to address it. It is our responsibility to ensure that the campuses of India are sensitive, responsible and free from discrimination of any kind. We have asked IITs to provide all necessary help to students and ensure zero tolerance for discrimination at their campuses and provide a robust support system. These are social economical challenges of our society and we, as a society, have to take the responsibility to address them.
The government has announced the establishment of the first IIT campus outside India in Tanzania. Do we expect more such campuses soon?
NEP envisaged the internationalisation of India’s education system. This is just the beginning.
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