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On Education Reform

Author: Rod Hemsell

Last Updated: June 13, 2007

EDUCATION REFORM The National Curriculum Framework 2005 is an education reform agenda, produced by the National Council of Education, Research and Training (NCERT) and officially adopted by the Government of India, Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). In an article in The Hindu on June 1st, Krishna Kumar, director of NCERT, outlined some of the main problems of the current system and NCERTs approach to reforming it. For example: Syllabus reform The new syllabi use the psychology of learning and the importance of utilizing resources available in childrens own milieu as organizing principles for teaching different subjects. The Councils re-conceptualised syllabi also attempt to integrate positive values, attitudes, life-skills, aesthetic sensibility, and concern for the environment in each subject, thus reversing the trend towards fragmentation of the curriculum. Textbook reform The new textbooks developed in accordance with these syllabi are interactive and enjoyable and they make a conscious effort to point both children and their teachers towards other sources of learning, such as nature, the neighborhood, and other books. Examination reform Rigidity and indifference towards individual differences are among the several weaknesses of the present examination system. That the system ignores creativity and discourages independent thought is well known. It is hardly surprising that the very thought of examination makes the young nervous and depressed. Teacher training reform The training given to teachers fails to impart the ability to distinguish the curriculum from the syllabus and textbooks. It is a commonly held view that the prescribed textbook is the de facto syllabus. Instead of focusing on making subject knowledge accessible to children through active experience, the teacher merely elucidates the textbook. What is special about the B.El.Ed. (a new teacher training program), is its capacity to develop the teachers personality and perspective on society by linking subject learning and pedagogy with reflective and creative project work. Activity Based Learning (ABL), which in recent years has been widely applied in Auroville schools, is now becoming the guiding principle of education reform in India. Along with value-based education, which was previously the catchphrase for reform, we have the essential principles of what the Mother referred to repeatedly in her series of articles on integral education (1951) as a rational method of education. When these principles are systematically applied, they eventually lead to a well-developed curriculum that is continuous and relevant from KG through level 12, individualized learning plans for each child that include appropriate learning goals and strategies regularly updated, and authentic assessments that demonstrate learning outcomes in all areas of the childs development: academic, artistic, social, emotional, physical, etc. This is a natural progression in reform strategies that we have observed in schools where we have worked in America during the past twenty years. Just as Kumar points out in his article that the current reforms have followed fifteen years after the Yash Pal report titled Learning Without Burden, similarly in the USA a 1983 report titled A Nation at Risk resulted in education reform legislation in the 90s, and now constructivist principles (ABL) are widespread in teacher training programs. There are also now thousands of schools which employ individualized learning plans and authentic assessments, according to methods like those developed by the Harvard Graduate School of Educations Project Zero, which we have shared with AV schools, to help ensure both high quality program content and real, integral learning outcomes among students. In the end, it is only a system that works to enrich, expand, and fortify childrens development that is worthwhile, and its outcomes will be measurable. If Indias educational reforms continue to move in this direction, then we in Auroville may find our efforts reflected in a more general awakening to what the Mother originally envisioned as the best type of reform in education. Then a meaningful, dynamic and productive interaction on all fronts - local, regional and national might result in mutually beneficial exchanges. This is one of the hopes that is inspiring a few schools in Auroville to begin to explore affiliation with CBSE and NCERT, and the possibility of providing more teacher training opportunities in Auroville in association with these organizations. Rod Hemsell