As we celebrate International Education Day tomorrow, this year’s theme reflects our collective global challenge to ‘recover and revitalise education for the Covid-19 generation’. The pandemic has disrupted the education sector across the world – more so in countries like ours, marked with stark inequalities and digital divide.
However, the silver lining is that we, as a nation, value quality in education more than before. We increasingly realise that education isn’t just about delivering lessons or filling worksheets, but perhaps more about teacher-student interactions, peer interplay and an experience of school life which supports development of a range of skills, competencies and attitudes. There’s also a growing realisation that widening inequalities mandate newer strategies to bridge the gap between quality of education delivered to learners from diverse backgrounds.
The pandemic period witnessed the much awaited National Education Policy, followed by an announcement of developing two new National Curriculum Frameworks for Teacher Education (NCFTE) and school education (NCFSE) by next year. As we reopen schools, it’s an opportune time to reflect on the need to revitalise education through curricula.
Ordinarily, curriculum is understood as a set of prescribed knowledge guiding teaching and learning in schools, often used synonymously with ‘syllabus’. However, educational thinkers have argued for a much broader understanding. From the idea of curriculum as fixed, prescribed and subject centred, the discourse needs to shift to a more fluid, interactive and child centred notion.
The focus needs to be on the outcome – what is learned – rather than on what is directly taught. In other words, the transmission of content in classrooms needs to be examined. This process is often highly contextual, and fraught with diverse tacit, indirect and often unintentional messages and cues which have been referred to as ‘hidden curriculum’. Although hidden curriculum remains unacknowledged and underexamined in India, it creates a powerful context of learning, shaping students’ self-perceptions and worldview.
For instance, while observing a class, I found the teacher listing ‘girl’ as the opposite of ‘boy’ on the blackboard, accompanied by a short monologue on how they are as different as night and day. While these words fall under the masculine-feminine (ling badlo) section, the teacher unwittingly decided that they are opposites (vilom shabd). In another class discussing teamwork, a teacher listed hero, heroine and ‘item girl’ as members of a film making crew.
My classroom observations at Delhi schools showed that both male and female teachers initiated twice the number of interactions with boys than girls, which included verbal interactions like encouragement and discussion of higher order questions. These also included non-verbal interactions like giving more time to answer a question, nodding towards them, looking at their side while teaching and walking more between boys’ side of the row in the segregated class and so on. Only high performing girls were found to interact with the teacher, at par with boys.
Conduct related interactions, however, were made nearly twice with girls even when boys disrupted the class more often. Verbally, teachers discouraged girls by making frequent references to girls’ predicament of marriage, housework and child rearing; and non-verbally through gaze aversion and frequent interruptions.
Hence, through an unequal division of their time, attention and energies as well as their interpretation and illustration of the textbook content, teachers were often found to subvert the formal curricular goal of achieving gender equality through education.
In a scenario of already aggravating inequalities, curriculum reforms must move beyond approaching quality and equity through the lens of representation alone. It is crucial that hidden curriculum is acknowledged as a vital area of curriculum design and educational assessment impacting both academic outcomes and social-emotional competencies.
New curriculum frameworks should examine the cultural, ideological and political underpinnings of hidden curriculum and its manifestations in schools’ organisation and structure, unwritten norms and classroom practices. Lastly, they should seek to reorient this powerful force to support, rather than subvert progressive educational goals through continuous teacher training and school monitoring programmes.
Both NCFTE and NCFSE must articulate and account for the presence of hidden curriculum particularly with reference to marginalised social groups in diverse educational settings and teaching areas. It will pave the way for India furthering a formal ‘equal right to education’ into a much more substantive ‘right to equal education’.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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