India/ 8.3 Arts and cultural education  

8.3.1 Institutional overview

Teaching Culture in Schools

The background: In the history of educational policies in India, the term ‘culture’ has acquired diverse meanings. Starting with the colonial interest in introducing Western culture by prescribing certain kinds of literary texts, the question of culture occupies centre-stage in most of the early debates on education. The linking of culture with language and literary texts in a certain language does not change even after Independence. Thus, we see that culture was what gave content to the curriculum in the early phase of Indian educational system.  In order to get people to serve the British Empire efficiently, Lord Macaulay (1800-1859) suggested English education, and this was to be reversed in the post-independence period. The move was to replace English with Hindi.  Yet, already in the second five year plan, a greater emphasis is placed on international co-operation, and culture of an international kind seems to have replaced the idea of national culture.  The subsequent emphasis on development and the teaching of science and technology, and the importance of research in social science that would help policy studies, pushes those disciplines that came to be linked with ‘culture’ to the margin. The inability to think creatively about arts curriculum makes these disciplines not only job-unworthy but also stagnant and outdated. 

Our earlier analyses of policies related to arts and culture have indicated that in the use of the term ‘Arts and Culture’, what has got emphasised has been the idea of Culture as cultural heritage. Culture in Education, therefore, has made sense only when it has been refracted through the heritage and tradition lens, which it did in the early post-independence period.  However, in the developmentalist period (see Section 2.3), there is less evidence to show that art and aesthetics are seen as either part of heritage, or even as a necessary element in fulfilling the objective of development. Science and technology, which were seen to hold a modern solution for all developmentalist ills, often came into direct confrontation with culture, which was seen as traditional. In 1990, there was a change in this dichotomy, as we see with the setting up institutions such as the National Resource Centre for Value Education. However, this time, it is more in the form of values rather than in the form of art and aesthetics

National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT): The NCERT mentions Value Education and National Curriculum Framework as its current concern. The following objectives have been put forth for research in this area:

  • Analysis of NCERT science textbooks, the value of ‘compassion’, and spirituality and counseling with a view to arriving at information which could be used by interested groups.
  • Preparation and production of supplementary reading material for students for inculcation of different values using stories, parables, anecdotes from literature on different faiths. 

The assembling of the resource material is geared towards value-education for use by parents, teachers, teacher-educators, and counselors, training of teachers in values, training of teacher-educators in affective development with emphasis on arts and aesthetics, and using dramas as medium for value-development.

It is quite clear from the discussion of various important documents related to education that if in the early phase of independence, culture and education were almost identical terms, gradually culture gets delinked from education and attains a meaning of its own. During the developmental phase (see Section 2.3), it was science and technology with a subsequent emphasis on education producing skilled workers that came to be considered education. In the 1980s and the 1990s, with globalisation and the liberalisation of economic policies, the state is gradually trying to link with industries while reemphasising its role in framing a national policy for education. It is also in such a context that vocationalisation of education becomes a crucial issue for the state. The commission given to the Birla-Ambani group to come up with a report that would advise the State on its policies on education, while, on the one hand, suggests the state’s eagerness to reduce its financial stake in education, on the other, indicates its willingness to see education as something that is related to the national enterprise.

However, this eagerness to retain control over education without sharing much of the burden of sustaining it at the higher level has resulted in a spate of new policy decision such as extension of autonomy (financial and academic) to colleges, linking education with industries and formulation of a Private Universities Bill. The number of changes that the field of education has undergone in the past few years has given rise to a spate of activities at the college level. Though arts disciplines have not changed dramatically over the years, a number of arts-related courses are being taught in the extra-curricular spaces of undergraduate education. This is a field that needs looking into.  Many of these interesting courses are run because of the initiatives of the individuals.  The state-run education system has not yet started incorporating such courses as part of the general curriculum. Though at the school level, a national-curriculum is still a reality, at the college level, new spaces are opening up for curricular intervention  - either as extra, added on courses, or as amendments or revisions of existing curriculum especially in the context of the demand for vocationalisation. 

Institutional Overview

There are two important institutions that formulate curricula in general in the India: the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the Department State Council of Education, Research and Training (DSERT).

The NCERT is an advisory body under the Ministry of Human Resource Development. It undertakes research, development, training, extension, publication and dissemination and exchange programmes with regards to education. Although NCERT can issue guidelines, they are not binding on the states. The State Councils’ of Education of each state have the power to formulate their own curriculum based on the recommendations of the NCERT.

In 2005, the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) was announced, which was the first serious attempt at introducing art education in schools, making the following recommendations:

(1) Arts education must become both a tool and a subject taught in every school compulsorily (up to Class X), and facilities for the same may be provided in every school.

(2) All the four main streams covered by the term the arts, i.e. music, dance, visual arts and theatre, should be included.

(3) Awareness also needs to be built among parents and guardians, school authorities and administrators regarding the importance of the arts.

(4) Emphasis should be given to learning rather than teaching, and the approach should be participatory, interactive, and experiential rather than instructive (Source: National Curriculum Framework 2005 Pg.51 Chapter 3.1).

Following this announcement, a separate Department of Arts and Aesthetics was created at NCERT in 2005 with a mandate to ‘to promote all forms of arts in schools by bringing it into the mainstream of country’s education system through various activities as development, training, research, orientation and to unfold the aesthetic potentialities of children for enabling them to become contributing citizens.’ Later, NCERT constituted a National Focus Group, which brought out Position Papers across broad categories including Arts, Music, Dance and Theatre, Traditional Crafts, Education for Peace and Teaching of Indian Languages among others. The recommendations of these position papers act as guidelines for framing future curriculum for both schools as well as teacher training.

The key document among these, the Position Paper on Arts, Music, Dance and Theatre, reiterated the NCF’s requirement that arts education be taught in every school as a compulsory subject (up to Class X), and that facilities be provided for music, dance, visual arts and theatre. It further asked that Indian traditional arts be specially emphasised. It asked for school authorities to acknowledge in practice that arts be given significance in the curriculum and not just restricted to being so-called entertaining or prestige earning activities. Additionally, the Position Paper asked for a public campaign to promote arts education as a relevant subject, to address the mindsets of guardians, school authorities and even policy makers.

The Position Paper on Heritage Crafts, on its side, recommended that craft and millions of practising craftspeople are a huge resource of traditional knowledge and indigenous technologies, which could be used to value-add the educational system, if crafts are taught as a vocational, creative activity as well as a theoretical social science. The Paper wanted Crafts to not only be taught as a separate subject in its own right, but to be integrated into the study of history, social and environmental studies, geography, arts and economics. It pointed out that the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in India and other technical institutions abroad use model making and origami to teach the fundamental of engineering, mathematics, and physics, and asked that craftspeople should be used as trainers and teachers, rather than only to train another cadre of crafts teachers. It envisaged different curricula to be developed for schools in rural craft pockets, where craft education enhances existing craft vocations (entrepreneurship, technical training, language skills, accountancy, marketing, and packaging) and for schools in urban belts, where education in craft would constitute an alternative experience and a creative outlet.

The Education for Peace Position Paper asked for peace clubs and peace libraries to be set up in schools, and for a pool of films - documentaries and feature films - to be assembled that could promote the values of justice and peace and be screened in schools. It also envisaged that the media be co-opted as a stakeholder in education for peace and that newspapers be persuaded to run peace columns. Specifically, it planned that provisions be made in schools to celebrate the cultural and religious diversity of India, Human Rights Day, Day for the Differently-abled, Girl Child Day, Women’s Day, and Environment Day.

The Position paper on Teaching Indian Languages emphasised the importance of the mother tongue as a medium of instruction. Arguing that primary education, even elementary arithmetic and early knowledge about society and environment, is essentially language education, the Paper strongly recommended that the medium of instruction in primary school must be the mother tongue of learners, and that the rich experiential, linguistic, and cognitive resources that they bring to schools must be built upon. Use of the languages of children should not be forbidden in the English class, and the teaching should, as far as possible, be located in a text that would make sense to the child. Further, efforts should be made to build bridges between the languages of home, peer group, and neighbourhood, and the languages of the school. It asked that curriculum designers, textbook writers, and teacher trainers make a major effort to build networks across different subjects and languages in order to enhance levels of language proficiency. Since advanced levels of language-proficiency skills tend to get automatically transferred from one language to another, the Report found it desirable to focus attention on languages across the curriculum. It asked that Sanskrit continue to be taught as a Modern Indian Language (MIL) from Class VI, but as a classical language Sanskrit, classical Tamil (which is distinct from the contemporary spoken standard), or Latin should be taught in an interesting and challenging way for at least two years at the secondary or senior secondary level. It proposed, finally, that though efforts to eliminate religious, cultural, and social biases should be the burden of the entire educational curriculum, language classrooms may prove to be the most subtle and most successful domains of desirable social changes in this regard, and producers of learning materials may be encouraged to create responsible discourses in this regard. 

Chapter published: 22-04-2014