Education & Curriculum Reform

Education is a continuous process of change and improvement.  Many research has established a direct relationship between education and the economic growth of any society. These changes in the education system are mostly driven by intellectuals and thinkers. Our society has gone through transformational change from agricultural to industrial to our current digital information age. This has necessitated a need to evaluate the school curriculum to determine if it is appropriately addressing the current need of the society. Current globalization has also increased economic competition within and between countries. Thus progressive societies have realized the benefit of investing heavily in our education system particularly at primary and secondary levels. Therefore educators are engaged in designing new curriculum as well as assessment tools to improve the quality of education. School curriculums have gone through several reform movements to redress the social inequality, poverty and political injustice.  Underlying principles of these reforms have been to build a literate, well-informed and progressive society.

There are four main components of the curriculum reform.

  • Curriculum: knowledge and skills that we want students to acquire
  • Instruction: instructional methods for a multicultural classroom
  • Assessment: how do we measure what students have learned and are assessments appropriately designed
  • Site: the structural component, the environment where the learning happens

A Short History of Education Reform in America

Education reform in US schools started when Horace Mann proposed the concept of democratizing education by opening common schools. All children between the age of 6 and 14 were required to attend school and the education was provided free. Many reform minded people came together to decide what needed to be taught. Before this time, school curriculums were mostly defined by the religious officials who were of the belief that children were born with innate ideas. Innate philosophers like Descartes and Plato proposed that concepts and knowledge is present at birth. Plato asserted the inadequacy of knowledge obtained through experience and sensory organs. John Locke, considered father of classical liberalism, proposed theory that was in sharp contrast to innate idea. His theory was that children are born with a clean slate (tabula rasa) and they construct their knowledge of the world with their interaction and experience with the environment. During 20th century, progressive thinkers like John Dewey and other major theorists emphasized progressive education which meant that all citizens must be educated to be active participant in all decisions regarding economics and politics that will affect their life. They sought equal academic education for all not just the few and vocational training for masses. John Dewey created active learning environment which was conducive for students to learn from their experience not by just listening to the teachers only.

There have been several reform ideas put forward since then in American public school. Post Sputnik era drew attention to inefficiency of science education in schools. Also, Japan’s dominance in the industrial world brought many criticism of the American schools curriculum.  A Nation at Risk: the imperative for educational reform was the title of the report prepared in response to the crisis of lack of competitive work force. As a result new curriculum was proposed that was more rigorous and enquiry based but this new curriculum did not produce the desired result because it did not include classroom teachers in devising the program nor training them adequately. Subsequent reform movements like, Outcome Based Education, Goal 2000 or No Child Left Behind of early 21st century, have all suffered similar fate because of non-inclusion of classroom teachers. This has left a wide gap between reforms and implementation of any new program. Without the inclusion of all professionals of education community and the classroom teachers, no reform has a fair chance to succeed.

Educational Reform in India

Educational reform in India has been slow and few in India according to J.P.Naik, a renowned thinker and educationist. According to him, education in India falls in modern world in two categories.

1800-1900 Colonial system of education which replaced traditional system. Traditional system of education happened under the supervision of Gurus.

1900-1978 National system replacing the colonial educational system. In post independent India, the central and state government took control of education and there is a prevailing feeling that it has not been very successful.

Many modern thinkers like Vivekananda, Tagore, Aurobindo, Tilak, Zakir Hussain and Gandhi were of the opinion that education system designed by British Raj needed to be reviewed and replaced by something more relevant in independent India. Gandhi wanted to abolish colonial school curriculum with a radical alternative. He believed that schools should be self-supporting and independent of the state or any outside agencies. Aurobindo even went as far as to suggest that first principle of teaching is that nothing can be taught without motivation to learn. This statement condenses new theory and new form pedagogical practice which puts learning above teaching. This thinking promotes the role of teachers to a facilitator who guides the learning of student as self-directed and self-propelling. Nehru the first Prime Minister was a very passionate advocate of education for all. He believed empowering youth and women through knowledge not reservation. In recent years, there have been many thinkers like J. P. Naik propagating idea of universalizing of education and Krishna Kumar of NCERT espousing quality of education. NCERT an educational institution was formed to help central government at all levels of academic matters. This agency is charged with a task of reviewing and designing curriculum for all levels of public schools.

No radical educational reform will improve the quality of education unless teachers are involved in formulation and implementation of a new program. Also planning needs to be broad-based and at local institutional level. Another major factor in continuous improvement is the motivation of students and this can be achieved only when course curriculum is relevant and current and instructors work to bring the highest potential of all students. The quality of education will improve tremendously if the instructional mode and the delivery of course material would be student centered rather than teacher centered. The globalization has also created a need for skilled, creative and problem solver. Classroom teachers have a very important role in creating environment that will encourage more responsible and self-learner.

A non-profit society decided to promote creative learning based on principle of multiple intelligence theory of Howard Gardner. This theory states that each child has unique learning style and this challenges an education system that assumes that all children learn similarly and at the same pace. This fact ignores the multiple cognitive levels of all children which affects the teaching method also. The Association for Promotion of Creative Learning, APCL established an institution in Patna in 1996, and this organization uses research based methodology to reach underprivileged children to learn in multiple intelligence environment. They also draw from ancient Indian wisdom of “Charaiveti Charaiveti” meaning keep moving, keep moving. It means moving person collects nectar. A wheel logo of the organization symbolizes the creative energy to constantly seek and learn.

For any education system to succeed, it must include certain recommendations. Some of them are curriculum changes and others are teaching methods. Teachers need to be able to understand the fact that all students do not operate on similar level of cognitive capabilities. Recognizing this fact, they need to address the multiple level of intelligence in classroom and must be trained in multiple ways to present the material. Some of the recommendations are as follows.

  • Standard bases curriculum: standard matters and there should be a national standard.
  • A Socratic method of teaching (questioning): a method of engaging students encouraging them to ask questions and develop higher order of thinking. Rote memorizing is passive learning.
  • Empowerment and ownership: Students should be empowered to become the owner of their own learning.
  • A problem based learning: Be problem solver by thinking creatively and evaluating several alternate options.
  • Self-learning and exploration: Be engaged in research and learn to write research report
  • Collaborating learning: Based on Vygotsky method of cooperative learning when small group of students are working together to learn something. Teaches accountability and responsibility
  • Service learning: Also not employed often enough but very important learning tool. Service learning teaches a very crucial lesson of world beyond classroom by observing and gaining firsthand knowledge of how classroom lessons are applied outside.
  • Depth not breath: deciding what is relevant to teach

Educational reforms have been motivated by variety of reason mostly to address the socio-economic problems and according to most thinkers these inequality is rooted in lack of education. For any reform to succeed and bring about desired result lies in the fact that all stakeholders and key players need to be involved in planning and totally invested in the end result. Teachers need to be educated and given enough resources and support so they can effectively implement the new designs. Education reform is a process not an end. We are too quick to come up with new ideas and just as quick to drop it as we have become too accustomed to instant result.

– Anita S

Leave a comment


  1. delhiexpress24

     /  June 5, 2012

    I am pleases with the comments and the dialogue that is going on here. What I have tried to write isnot commentary or criticism of Indian education but rather point out the limitations of education systems as a whole. There is no perfect formula. But we can agree on the skills that one needs to cultivate to succeed in any setting. I admit my ignorance of current Indian school system thus I do not have right to criticize the system. My observations are general. I would always have an engaged classroom than quite and obedient students. Bit of info on myself, I taught high school science and I preferred to teach in inner city school where my students came from poor and disadvantage background. I agree with the statement that curiosity or inquiring mind should be the goal of education.
    Thanks gentlemen.

  2. Rajneesh, I welcome you to this blog and appreciate your views and interest in this subject. I am also in sync with our view that our education curriculum is mostly western influenced.
    I personally feel that what we need is an education system, where children are given global outlook and exposed to complete information about the subject under discussion. The current change in CBSE pattern – I feel is a step forward in the direction. Now CBSE students are encouraged to do some extra reading and gain more knowledge about the subject. However, it is still is a long way to go…

  3. I do agree with the most part of your content in this post.

    But it can’t be done the way you visualize. You have to understand that our INDIAN Education System is nothing but a leftover of the Western Scheme which was very carefully designed with a malice intent.

    I would suggest you to ask a Science/Physics teacher who is teaching at 10+2/UG level:

    1. Physics says that the nucleus of any (literally any) atom is composed of 2-subatomic particles, viz., Protons, Neutrons. ….Right! Neutrons don’t possess the ‘charge’ of any type, they are said to be neutral. Nucleus is therefore retains its ‘positive’ charge, because protons actually possesses ‘positive’ charges. Wonderful! It is what is taught to students of science. Ask them, if it is correct? They would say, Yes, indeed.

    Then ask them, it is not possible. Because if all the protons possess only ‘positive’ charge, then the same ‘positive’ charge of each ‘positive’ protons MUST repel each other, and the whole nucleus MUST fall apart. Why and how it remains intact?

    Remember: Our students don’t ask this question to them, EVER.

    2. When nucleus is ‘positive’ charged and the electrons orbiting around it are essentially ‘negative’ charged, It is again not possible. Because then the opposing charges MUST attract each other………………….AND then the whole atom and its electrons must COLLAPSE at its nucleus. HOW IT COMES?

    My point is simple, ……………what we are feeding to our students is highly filtered and they are enslaved of unilateral dimensions of phenomena, whereby killing the actual ‘CURIOSITY’ among the students, they are never allowed to think freely by our education system.

    CURIOSITY is the only element that should be the target of educational, instructional pedagogy, regardless of subject, curriculum and mode of delivery.

    With thanks,


    P.S.: India’s Education System: A Strict Adherence to Western Doctrines


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