Dinesh Prasad Saklani: ‘Ideology no problem… When we’re objective, there’s no bias’

Prof Dinesh Prasad Saklani took charge as director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) on Monday, ending a period of more than a year in which it had no full-time head.

He will lead NCERT at a time when the autonomous body under the Ministry of Education will work closely with the committee set up to revise the National Curriculum Framework (NCF), based on which changes will be made to textbooks.

Speak with The Indian Express on Wednesday, Saklani, who was a professor of history at HNB Garhwal University, said implementing the National Education Policy, 2020 and ensuring smooth completion of the NCF review exercise are among his priorities.

You have taken charge at a time when the gradual implementation of national education policies is heralding changes in the education system. What are your immediate priorities?

The mandate of our NEP is our mandate. To this end, the National Framework Curriculum is being revised and a steering committee is working on it. They have formed 25 focus groups that will outline the guidelines for the position papers. The guidelines are almost final. In the first week of March we have a meeting to get the guidelines from the committee. Once the guidelines are known, work on position papers begins. And after that the path will be clear for preparing syllabi, and at the same time we will identify scientists for writing the books… My bigger vision is to make NCERT an institution of national importance.

What are the changes you plan to make to NCERT?

We cannot introduce any change. We fully implement the proposals in the NEP according to the timeframe. But in order to implement the NEP within the set time frame, the institute has to shift up a gear. Thus, reactivating NCERT has high priority. With new energy I am essentially referring to the need to fill more than half of the vacancies. If we don’t have teachers, how do we deliver the curriculum? My priority will be to fill the vacant posts as quickly as possible in a very transparent manner.

How many posts are vacant?

All of NCERT’s constituent bodies, such as the five Regional Educational Institutions, the National Institute of Education and the Institute of Vocational Education, occupy approximately 1,075 vacancies.

Coming back to NCF, the revision exercises of curricula and syllabi in the past have always raised accusations of ideological redesign. What is your opinion about this?

Ideology is something else. We are professionals. We are not going to indulge in ideological matters. What we are going to do is that we follow the guidelines of NEP. Ideology is not a problem for us.

A member of the NCF steering committee recently said Indian students are not exposed to the country’s rich intellectual and artistic heritage

You see, he also said that objectivity is important. It also means professionalism. If we are objective, there is no bias. When we are subjective, there are prejudices. Objectivity is a professional’s approach.

Aside from the NCF overhaul, NCERT is currently rationalizing textbooks to reduce the burden on the curriculum

The (rationalization) exercise is almost complete. I’m checking how far we’ve progressed. The progress is very satisfying. It is done taking into account that we should have the books in April.

Textbooks will be rationalized when NCERT already has a stock of about 3 crore of books worth more than Rs 200 crore. What will happen to this share?

That will be used up by the time the new books come out. They (the books) will not be lost, for the release of new books will take some time. I assume you are referring to the rationalization that will take place in accordance with the NCF and NEP.

No, I referred to the separate rationalization exercise to reduce curriculum overload

This will be handled very judiciously. Nothing will be lost. We are investigating the matter. We will do our best to protect public money. How that will happen is something we will discuss. But the result will be satisfactory.

Just before you took over, there was a controversy about NCERT removing a learning guide on transgender kids

It was not developed at the time. They (the panel that drafted the manual) made a mistake. Maybe they did it in a hurry, not on purpose. When a manual has to be developed, a lot of research material has to be collected. They collected research material and put it on the website. That was not the module. We’re doing it for the first time. It is being worked on and we will come up with a good module, which will be acceptable and there will be no controversy.

Sajal Jain
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