Common curriculum for ensuring level playing field

Dr Mushtaq Rather
The term ‘Curriculum’ is not a restrictive term. We have limited our understanding of curriculum to text books which otherwise goes much beyond, with text books being just one entity in the broader domain of curriculum. As per National Curricular Frame Work for School Education 2023(NCFSE), which draws its essence from NEP2020, Curriculum refers to the entirety of the organized experiences of students in any institutional settings towards educational aims and objectives. The NCFSE further emphasizes that the elements which constitute and bring life to curriculum are innumerable and include goals and objectives , syllabi, content to be taught and learnt , pedagogical practices and assessment , teaching learning materials , school and classroom practices , learning environment and culture of institution . An evolving curriculum that must enable consonances and harmony across the country and providing a basis for quality and equity.
The idea of a common curriculum is to weed out educational disparities for students across the public and private institutions of Jammu and Kashmir by implementing a standardized uniform curriculum in all the schools. The prime objective is to ensure attainment of competencies rather than encouraging rote memorization which is strongly discouraged and considered redundant and obsolete by NEP 2020. It was a long pending demand of relevant stakeholders to have uniform standardized curriculum in all the educational institutions whether public or private and the demand ultimately yielded results as JKBOSE has recently issued an order making it mandatory for both public and private players of education to stick to common curriculum with centralized focus on uniform text books from class 1st to 12th. Earlier the Private School United Front filed a writ petition WP(C) No.702/2023 before the Honorable Jammu and Kashmir High court to restrict JKBOSE in prescribing the common curriculum and text books for all the schools. However the same was dismissed by the Hon’ble High court which in its order has observed that the JKBOSE is well within its rights to instruct and make it mandatory for all the private schools to prescribe text books published by JKBOSE. With the positive inputs from Hon’ble High court of J&K and Ladakh, JKBOSE has directed upon all the affiliated private schools of the UT of J&K and Ladakh that they shall implement the curriculum and the text books prescribed/ published by JKBOSE from ensuing Academic session 2024-2025 for classes 1st to 12th.
Immediate Positive outcomes of Uniform curriculum
Aptly put forth by the renowned educationist, Ruheed Gul Baldev, NCERT books are the best books available in terms of age appropriate content and therefore cognition of the child . They are published after thorough review and discussion at the highest level. However , paper and print quality is debatable because provision of free text books is an obligation on the part of Government for classes 1st -8th as mandated by RTE Act 2009.Information and communication technology ( ICT) Artificial Intelligence , General Knowledge and other allied curricular areas do not necessarily need to be taught through books . They can be taught across the curriculum of core subjects and there is no need to burden the students by prescribing more number of text books and rendering them rote learners devoid of acquisition of 21st century skills like critical thinking, collaborative approach, creativity and communication. The need of the hour is to have teachers who have command over pedagogical dynamism and therefore can carve the content himself given the knowledge boom in today’s AI world. Book is just a knowledge piece for him/her, a horizon and if he /she transcend this horizon , then surely we do not need stuff children with content at the time when NEP 2020 is advocating for trimming the content.
The implementation of common curriculum from ensuing academic session 2024-2025 will certainly ensure level playing field for every school going children to hone his learning potential irrespective of where he/she is enrolled. Previously the discretion of selecting text books was entirely vested with a private school and there were hardly any checks and balances to either regulate the cost or scrutinize the quality of the content. Following few will be immediate positive outcomes of uniform curriculum:
Profiteering nexus to be minimized : It is not a hidden reality that an unholy nexus is in place between private school management and private publishers to fleece innocent parents of their hard earned money. It is an astonishing and brute reality that the parent of a kid enrolled in a primary class is rather forced to purchase 14 books which further are sub-sectioned into themes leading to even further increase in the number of the books. How come on earth a child of such a tender age will do justice with all the prescribed books. How the school management manages time schedule for all the books is beyond one’s scope and understanding. NEP 2020 strongly advocates and recommends books for core subjects only. It further envisages integrated and inter-multidisciplinary approach. Why to recommend a separate book for general knowledge when the same can be taught through core subjects. Why to introduce a separate series of English conversation, when the same learning outcomes can be achieved through the teaching of core language book of English and so on. Even hardly any private school keeps same set of books for an extended period of two-three years and keeps on changing text books every year so that parents have no choice but to buy new set of prescribed books at every new academic session. The modus operandi is to fetch and fleece more money from the common masses. It is quite clear that an educational entity is neither a business entity nor a not for profit organization as it’s sole endeavour is to provide quality education to the children and that is the reason government has exempted private schools from the income tax ambit. So having a common curriculum as an absolute necessity is to regulate and supervise the content being taught in schools across Jammu and Kashmir.
Safeguarding health of school going children : If we try to visualize the school proceedings in the current context, the first thing that strikes our mind is the exhaustive image of a school going child with an oversize bag hanging down the shoulders. School curriculum has strong linkage with the weight of school bag. More number of subjects offered in schools indicates more text books to be carried along and home work on regular basis implies additional weight on tender shoulders. The back pack of school going children, excessively -laden with books has been observed to seriously castigate and compromise the health of the child. Research scholars have unanimously concluded that the weight of the school bag should not exceed 10 percent of the child’s body weight, based on the fact that it can affect their spinal posture, foot shape and walking style.
Though the National Bag Policy 2020 is in public domain from couple of years but its implementation has not seen the light of the day as it faced multiple impediments especially in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir. A renowned lawyer and Social activist Badrul Duja filed a PIL before the honorable High Court of Jammu and Kashmir to get the recommendations of National School Bag policy 2020 implemented across the schools of UT of Jammu and Kashmir. The Honorable High Court passed directions to the Department of Education to implement the recommendations of the National Bag Policy 2020 or frame similar guidelines on the pattern of National Bag Policy .In compliance to the directions passed in light of the said PIL , School Education Department had made amendments to the Jammu and Kashmir School Education, S.O 126 dated 15th of April 2020 in exercise of the powers conferred by section 29 of the Jammu and Kashmir School Education Act , 2002 made the following amendments in J&K School Education Rules, 2010, which are
Duty of the school management to ensure that:
I. No home work is assigned to the students of classes upto grade 2nd
II. No formal books are prescribed at Pre-primary level ( Nursery , LKG, UKG). However students of these classes may be provided maximum two note books /work books to be kept in the custody of teacher in the school premises
III. Students of pre-primary level are not supposed to carry any bag except light lunch pack.
IV. No school should prescribe any other subjects except
* Language and Arithmetic for classes 1st and 2nd
* Language, Environmental studies and Arithmetic for classes 3rd to 5th .
* Language , Social sciences , Science and Mathematics for classes 6thto 8th
* Actualization of Bag -less days: The Para 3.15 of school bag policy and Para 4.26 0f NEP 2020 emphasizes that every school going child will be involved in a fun centric module during grades 6-8 .All students will actively take part in a 10-day bag less span in a flexible slot during grades 6-8 where they will be motivated to intern with local vocational experts such as carpenters , potters , gardeners , artistis etc. Similar internship opportunities to experience vocational subjects will be made available to students throughout grades 6-12. Bag less days will be encouraged throughout the year for various types of enrichment activities including arts, quizzes, sports and vocational crafts.