The Government of India has launched its National Curriculum Framework for Foundational Stage (NCF-FS) recently for 3 to 8 years age students in continuation to the National Education Policy 2020. This will prepare students to meet the requirements of 21st-century needs. The NEP is the goal and NCFs are the tools by which this goal can be achieved. Both are like the entwining twins without one the other is dormant. The NEP 2020 set down the curricular and pedagogical structure as 5+3+3+4 for school education. This NCF-FS is the first step towards achieving the NEP goals.
The NCF-FS focuses on early childhood care and education in the foundational classes in order to prepare the future of India. The NCF tries to bring the old Indian system of education and principles back in conjunction with modern practices. This NCF spotlights the indigenous traditional models like Panchakosha Vikas (five-fold development) of students. Panchakosha is an ancient explication of the importance of the body-mind complex in human experience and understanding. This non-dichotomous approach to human development gives clear pathways and direction towards a more holistic education. The Panchakosha concept maps the domains like Physical Development (Sharirik Vikas), Development of Life Energy (Pranik Vikas), Emotional/Mental Development (Manasik Vikas), Intellectual Development (Bauddhik Vikas) and Spiritual Development (Chaitsik Vikas).
NCF talks about building the Smriti (memory) of children by adopting Ayurvedic medicines like Vacha. Vacha, a rejuvenating herb, bitter in taste, and used in the dried form has positive effects on the nervous system of a child. NEP 2020 is a paradigm shift in the education system as it envisions the transition to a more multidisciplinary and holistic education, transitioning to an emphasis on critical and analytical thinking rather than rote learning and transitioning to a new curricular and pedagogical structure.
NCF-FS emphasises the importance of play in learning at the foundation stage. It talks of free play which is child-led and child-directed; guided play which is child-led and teacher supported and structured play which is teacher-led and children actively participated. The curriculum goals include domains like Physical Development, Socio-Economic & Ethical Development, Cognitive Development, Language & Literacy Development and Aesthetic and Cultural Development.
To achieve Language Literacy at the foundation stage, the NCF highlights that since children learn concepts most rapidly and deeply in their home language, the primary medium of instruction would optimally be the child’s home language/mother tongue/familiar language in the Foundational Stage. Children should be exposed to and immersed in multiple oral languages from an early age. Schools shall aim to ensure the presence of Teachers, and parents so that at least two or preferably three languages are present with children regularly. Reading skills will first be developed in the home language through picture and story books, read-aloud books, shared reading, guided reading, and more independent reading through graded readers, with interactive activities involving poetry, songs, literature, drama, and games to enhance learning. Writing skills will also be developed in the home language through drawing, labelling, inventive spelling, writing workbooks, games requiring writing, and other forms of guided writing, followed by more independent writing of words, phrases, and then complete sentences in meaningful and creative contexts.
NCF uses the indigenous Five step learning process – ‘Panchaadi’ as a guide to formulating the sequence that a Teacher may adopt in planning for instructions to be given in a classroom setup. These five steps are Aditi (Introduction), Bodh (Conceptual Understanding), Abhyas (Practice), Prayog (Application) and Prasar (Expansion). Teachers should now have to focus more on classwork and avoid giving long and extensive homework to foundational students. NCF focuses more on conversation and storytelling in the classroom. It also brings in toy-based learning and learning through songs, rhymes and musical movements. Along with art and craft, field trips, and indoor and outdoor games, it also asks for spending time in and with nature. To learn mathematics, NCF focuses more on learning core concepts through local parlance riddles/songs/puzzles etc. The curriculum is open to teaching-learning mathematics in the vernacular languages at the foundational stage. NCF stresses making the classroom more inclusive by using flexible classroom settings/seating arrangements/furniture etc.
NCF also lays an outline for syllabus development at the foundation stage. The syllabus should make specific choices for content and materials based on the Learning Outcomes, principles and guidelines of NCF along with considerations for the local context. Learning by doing is critical in early education. Projects, especially those involving collaboration with peers, enable children to develop a wide range of skills. Implementation of the syllabus highlights the usage of technology and audio-visual material. NCF takes a giant leap from term-end Report Card to Holistic Progress Card (HPC). The HPC needs to have a section that is competency based which will analyse the students’ work based on craft, projects and simple worksheets. This section would track the progress of the child against each Competency that is defined for specific Curricular Goals, thus rejecting the bygone pass-fail model of judgement.
The NCF-FS document is extensive enough to give a day-to-day school timetable for foundation days. NCF also focuses on safety and security in schools. It also states the guidelines for enabling and empowering teachers. It tries to speak directly to the teachers by focusing on classroom practices with varied real-life illustrations. The framework tries its best to remain realistic in addressing the needs of the practitioners. This curriculum further states the role guidelines for administrators, principals and parents. The documents iterate that parents and family are co-partners with the school in the child’s learning and development. In the early years, it is even more important for parents to understand and support what happens in school as well as for teachers to understand the child’s situation at home so that they can take cognizance of it in their interactions with the child.
NCF-FS demands the existing school structures to redesign themselves. Now, the entry age for class 1 will be 6 years, unlike the previous 5 years. This one-year increase will bind the schools to synchronise the foundational classes as per the new framework. The majority of Indian schools have classes from the first standard. These schools will have to add additional three years (if they wish to fully implement the framework principles), which means they have to incur infrastructural charges, and employ the required staff amounting to additional costs. A large number of private schools in our country run on Nursery, Kindergarten or Montessori structures of education. They mostly have two years of classes before class first. These schools will also have to add one year to the existing structure. A few elite metropolis schools in India have pre-nursery/play school classes that admit 2 years+ students, now have to increase an extra class to comply with the needs of NCF-FS. The working parents of Indian cities who ideally admit their children to pre-nursery classes will have to shed an additional one-year fee to obey the changing trend.
The NCF-FS is a holistic document that gives practitioners and schools word-by-word guidelines on how to run the show for 3 to 8 years students and enable them to be better learners and good human beings in their life. It laid the foundation for a child’s future. The NCF-FS aims at including a cent per cent of Indian children in the purview of the formal education system. The striking feature of this document is that it has not even once mentioned the western educational models like Bloom’s taxonomy and Maslow’s hierarchical model etc. However, it tries to revive the ancient Indian educational models and their importance in today’s times. The Indian education system will see its paradigm change in the years to come and we have to wait for the curriculum framework for the preparatory, middle and secondary stages to come so that NEP 2020 can be implemented in totality.