Did India’s education minister really consult experts before axing secularism, caste chapters from CBSE syllabus?

The response to an RTI application suggests that the NCERT is not aware about educationists being consulted.

ByChahak Gupta
Did India’s education minister really consult experts before axing secularism, caste chapters from CBSE syllabus?
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On July 7, education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank announced on Twitter that the CBSE would revise its syllabus for the senior secondary classes keeping in mind the “extraordinary situation” of the coronavirus pandemic.

The CBSE axed chapters on secularism, democractic rights, federalism, gender, religion and caste from the syllabus. The chapter on demonetisation was removed from class 12 business studies books. The decision drew flak from various stakeholders. The government was criticised for removing these chapters and opposition parties denounced the move as being part of a “bigger conspiracy”.

Sitaram Yechury, of the CPIM, termed the decision atrocious. “Using the pandemic, the Modi government is deleting sections dealing with India's diversity, plurality, democracy etc that uphold our Constitutional values,” he tweeted.

Responding to the criticism, the CBSE claimed the dropped topics would be covered in the rationalised syllabus or in the alternative academic calendar-- a calendar designed specifically to aid learning in the pandemic. In a circular released on July 8, it said, “Schools have been directed to follow the Alternative Academic Calendar prepared by NCERT for transacting the curriculum. Therefore, each of the topics that has been wrongly mentioned in the media as deleted has been covered under Alternative Academic Calendar of NCERT, which is already on force for all the affiliated schools of Board.”

However, in his same tweet thread on July 7, Pokhriyal mentioned that he had sought suggestions from academics on reducing the syllabus and received over 1,500 of them.

On August 20, Lakhan Singh, a lawyer and RTI activist who is associated with the People’s Action Justice For All, filed an RTI application with the higher education department of Pokhriyal’s ministry, seeking the following:

1) Certified copy of the meeting resolution or minutes where it was decided to invite suggestions from all educationalists.

2) Certified copy of the invitation letter which was sent to all educationists to invite suggestions.

3) The medium (newspaper, news channel, etc) which was used to inform/ask/request all educationists to provide suggestions regarding syllabus reduction.

4) A documentary proof of the invitation or request from all educationists to give suggestions regarding syllabus reduction.

The higher education department transferred the application to the school education and literacy department.

On August 24, the application was transferred once again, this time to the National Council of Educational Research and Training.

The NCERT replied to Singh on August 28, claiming it did not possess the information sought by him.

The transfer of the RTI application and the response to it beg the question: were educationists actually consulted about the deletion of chapters from the CBSE syllabus? If they were, why does the NCERT not have information about this? The only other possible explanation is that the ministry and the NCERT have deliberately withheld information, in violation of the RTI Act.

UPDATE: The story has been modified to make it clearer what the response to the RTI application indicates.


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