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Professor of English, Tribhuwan University, Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

An observation on national curriculums: comparing HSEB with NCERT

The present article is an attempt to discuss in passing the curriculum systems of Nepal and India. The terms Nepal and India may sound vague and too broad therefore I would like to be very specific. I will try to make a comparison between the underlying systems of Higher Secondary Education Board known as HSEB with those of National Council of Educational Research and Training popularly known as NCERT which represent Nepal and India respectively. Though there are different Boards that take care of Higher Secondary Education in India, the underlying system that operates them is more or less similar as it stands for  the broader objectives set for achieving at this level of education and  an outline of major functions assigned to  those institutions to achieve them. Modern curriculums of these type are too broad to discuss in detail so I will choose NCERT that oversees them all.

Into the overlapping terms
 Before I enter into the subject matter let me touch upon the terms coarse of study, syllabus and curriculum  in passing because these are sometimes overlapping and confuse the readers.
The term curriculum has been defined variously. For some it is course of study that the students are expected to follow, for others it  is a planned learning experiences, still for others a syllabus. If we define each of these separately, there is most likely that one can easily get confused. For instance, it is often believed that a syllabus is an outline and summary of topics to be covered in a course. It is often set out by an examination  board, whereas a syllabus usually contains specific information about the course. Then one may ask: What is a course? These terms are defined  differently in the British and American traditions. These terms  are sometimes used interchangeably in loose sense and an overlapping meaning confuses a reader. Many use curriculum for syllabus. Others use course of study and curriculum interchangeably. It depends on their convention, so sometimes it is difficult for one to distinguish one from the other. To cite an example, Houghton and Mifflin Dictionary has defined curriculum as: All the courses of study offered by an educational institution, or alternatively,  group of related courses, often in a special field of study: such as  the engineering curriculum.
For our purpose a clear cut distinction should be drawn among these concepts. When we do so, a course is a particular subject of study, for instance, science course of study for grade xii, mathematics course of study for grade xi. etc. Many courses constitute a syllabus; conversely, a syllabus contains different courses of study. For instance, science syllabus for Primary level, English syllabus for Secondary level etc. Thus, a smallest bit of the educational activity of teaching and learning is a course, a collection of courses is a syllabus and an overall term that comprises many syllabuses is a curriculum. Thus a hierarchical relationship is subsumed among the three—a curriculum being on the top like an umbrella under which two lower levels are contained. Thus one may label a package of syllabus as curriculum such as High School Curriculum or University Curriculum.

Curriculum defined
A curriculum is program of studies and a  sequence of courses or a set of  performance objectives. It is  everything that goes on within the school, university or an academic institution including extra-class activities, guidance, and interpersonal relationships.
A curriculum is usually a state level enterprise which contains the ambitions of a nation, its academic, scientific and social goals that can be attained through education. Education in its broadest sense is any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual. In its technical sense education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another. In fact a curriculum follows the spirit of the national constitution, values contained in this are inculcated in a learner through a curriculum. But it should free a learner's mind, not enslave in bondages because the ultimate goal of education is to free a learner from all ignorance and misconception as India's curriculum reflects the vision of secular, pluralistic society based on justice and equality. In the same way it is high time for Nepal to reshape and restructure HSEB curriculum in consonance with great changes that the nation has undergone of late. Let me quote two  definitions of curriculum.
Wojtczak (2002) has defined curriculum as: An educational plan that spells out which goals and objectives should be achieved, which topics should be covered and which methods are to be  to be used for learning, teaching and evaluation. This definition does not specify whether it is a course of study or a curriculum that is pursued.

            Unlike this Coles (2003) argues that a curriculum is much more than that. For him, a curriculum is more than a list of topics to be covered by an educational programme, for which the more commonly accepted word is a ‘syllabus’. A curriculum is first of all a policy statement about a piece of education, and secondly an indication as to the ways in which that policy is to be realised through a programme of action. In practice, though, a curriculum is more than even this; it is useful to think of it as being much wider. As a working definition of a curriculum I would say that it is the sum of all the activities, experiences and learning opportunities for which an institution (such as the society) or a teacher (such as a faculty member) takes responsibility—either deliberately or by default. This includes in such a broad concept of curriculum the formal and the informal, the overt and the covert, the recognised and the overlooked, the intentional and the unintentional. A curriculum is determined as much by what is not offered, and what has been rejected, as it is by positive actions. And very importantly the curriculum that actually happens—that is what is realised in practice—includes informal contact between teachers and learners as well as between the learners themselves, and this has been termed ‘the hidden curriculum’ which often has as much influence on what is learnt as the formal curriculum that is written down as a set of intentions. And it includes what you decide to do on the spur of the moment. So in fact it is useful to think of there being three faces to a curriculum: the curriculum on paper; the curriculum in action; and the curriculum that participants actually learn.


I will use the HSEB's National Curriculum Framework (2005) and NCERT's National Curriculum Framework (2005) and some website sources available in order to make a comparison between the systems of these institutions because these are founded to support the national interest of laying the foundation of Higher Secondary level education. HSEB is a government supported organization set up by the Government of Nepal with its headquarters in Kathmandu two decades ago. Its sole aim is to steer and direct the Higher Secondary level education which stands for grades IX and XII. Likewise NCERT is an apex resource organization set up by the Government of India, with headquarters at New Delhi, to assist and advise the Central and State Governments on academic matters related to school education. Unlike HSEB, NCERT is an institution that decides the overall activities from grades I to XII. It is a huge, extensive body with different wings, sections and departments.
            The National Curriculum Framework has  tried to decide questions as What to teach and How. Many things are unmatchably dissimilar between these curriculums. The HSEB does not have MLE questions to solve as this is undertaken by High School Level Education system however it is the responsibility of NCERT. It  says Mother tongue is a critical conduit which  is regarded  as social and economic and ethnic background and these are important for enabling children to construct their own knowledge. Media and educational technologies are recognized as significant but the teacher remains central. Diversities are emphasized but never viewed as problem. There is a celebration of plurality and an understanding that within a broad framework plural approaches would lead to enhanced creativity.
            The NCERT is aware of the fact "We have bartered away understanding for memory based, short term information accumulation. The amount of information is pouring in from all directions and child is most likely to get battled. It is true that could be memorized has begun to explode. Therefore, the suggestions forwarded by NCERT Framework is very precious. We should keep our curricula away from such drudgery and triviality, the repetitive illusions and too mechanical way of teaching or learning. The focus should be laid on understanding and creativity so that they can produce their vision. Their learning must be “wholesome, creative and enjoyable not traumatized by excessive burden of knowledge.” (Foreword:  National Curriculum Framework, 2005)
For years, people have held the false impression that children's memory is an empty space and needs feeling by using any stuff that the teachers feels appropriate. But NCERT clearly spelt out that filling up children's memory banks with information is a futile work. It turns out like a paper filled with meaningless  ink marks or bits on a computer disc. They feel that examinations have been developed as hurdle races. We need to look for correction.
Education is not simply a physical thing that can be delivered through the post or through a teacher. Fertile and robust education is always created, rooted in the physical and cultural soil of the child and nourished through interaction with parents, teachers, fellow students and the community. The role and dignity of teachers in this function must be strengthened and underlined.
A new paradigm shift can be experienced in the curriculum framework today. NCERT has spelt out concepts like MLE, IT Education, Girl Child Education and put them into practice. HSEB too is trying to put these things into practice; introducing them into the curriculum. But there is snot a single curriculum that a child learns from, there are many, the formal and informal, house and society, his/her individual everywhere there are curriculums the guidelines of life. A child is amidst them.
A child should never be crushed between  various conflicting forces of curriculum. Our education system should initiate  a freedom movement for the education of our young-- away from some tyrannies in which we have enveloped ourselves ( Wilson 2003).
The Government of Nepal brought the Higher Secondary Education Act into effect in 1989. Accordingly as stipulated in the Act, the Higher Secondary Education Assembly was constituted under the chairmanship of the Minister of Education. Subsequently Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB) was established in 1989 under the Higher Secondary Education Act. The HSEB has been running more than 1000 IX–XII schools presently.
Nepal received impetus from the global market, so that is the effect of globalization. It is also in consonance with SAARC region practices.
It is based on the principle of competition and excellence, to find an honourable niche in the international market. The world is moving and mixing borderlessly and it has a deep impact upon Nepal and her education system as well.
It is struggling between local values and global encroachment so as to strike a balance between them—looking for a space between borders drawn by local values and borderlessness.
It is essential to note that HSEB has assigned limited scope in the school system of Nepal. A hardly two decade old HSEB has to find its niche in the school level education system of Nepal which comprise of three levels below and which are almost a century old. The HSEB came out to substitute the Intermediate Level of (tertiary) education provided by Tribhuvan University. Despite immense efforts, corrupt politics  failed the plan yet HSEB has grown immensely. It is situated on the 4th level on the three tier education system of higher  secondary level of Nepal. These are–
Primary Level               (grade 1 - 5)
Lower Secondary         (grade 6 - 8)
Secondary                     (grade 9 - 10)
Higher Secondary         (grade 11 - 12)

Specifically, the objective of Higher Secondary Education then are to:
·       Prepare students for the world of work especially in meeting middle level manpower requirements in different fields.
·       Prepare students for general higher education and for professional disciplines.
·       Prepare the youth with competitive strength required for a patriotic, disciplined and productive human resources while contributing to the shaping of one's future and outlook.
·       Adopt a system of greater equality in opportunities by reducing by reducing regional and ethnical disparity and promoting female participation.
·       Aim to produce the ambassadors of culture, who irrespective of caste, class, gender and ethnicity respect the cultures that exist in human society and the politics of plurality.

Function of Higher Secondary Education Board
The main functions are as follows:
·       Granting approval for + 2 schools.
·       Developing and revising curricula and textbook materials.
·       Conducting examinations and publishing results.
·       Awarding certificates to Higher Secondary graduates.
·       Supervising and monitoring Higher Secondary School programs. I
·       Implementing plans and programs for improving Higher Secondary Education.
·       Recruiting technical, professional and administrative staff.
·       Designing and implementing training programs for +2 school teachers and other staff.
·       Conducting seminars and workshops.
·       Undertaking research activities, which focus on various issues in this field.
·       Keeping liaison with various national and international institutions.

Some points worth comparing
Both these curriculums are revised in 2005.
The NCERT  curriculum is based on “learning without burden 1993”.
Both the  HSEB and NCERT curriculums were restructured after a series  of meetings and discussions. Today, every aspect of curriculum undergoes a process of continual revision faster than ever before.
NCERT  says the learner should be allowed to possess creative spirit and feel generous joy; one should experience these qualities  in his or her childhood.
The unthinking adult world is not generous to them.
The NCERT evolves a national system of education, includes core component obtained from national development.

HSEB too has borne basic principles of curriculum framing in mind while restructuring it in 2005. Restructuring  includes its very objectives of school education, structure of school education, and student evaluation policy. A new  world has revealed itself in the form of open learning, ICT, life-skill, human rights, inclusiveness, and Nepal's socio-political reality, that is, the cultural values, a diverse geo-political spectrum which is in contrast  with each other. Its main focus has been however children's all-round development in the universal context.
Naturally, Curriculum Development stands for the extension of new areas and a coordination among various realities, such as value education, life-skill, employment, ICT, mother-tongue education, inclusiveness, Sanskrit education, education based on local needs, alternative education, quality in education and research. HSEB has kept these in mind.
On the other hand, NCERT's main focus is on research, development, training, extension, publication and dissemination and exchange programmers. The NCERT also drafts, publishes and recommends school text books (from Grade  I to Grade XII) of various subjects based on the recommendations of knowledgeable faculty in the subject. Unlike this HSEB is quite young and a growing institution with lesser degree of responsibility in comparison. It is lacking in research activities an does  no publication. The textbooks are selected from the market.
The objective of NCERT is to assist and advise the Ministry of Education and Social Welfare in the implementation of its policies and major programmes in the field of school education. The NCERT provides academic and technical support for the improvement of school education through its various institutions.
A host of programmes and organizations that support Secondary Education (in India) under the administrative control of the Union Department of Education are:
·           Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS)  
·           Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS)  

            The objective of NCERT is to assist and advise the Ministry of Education and Social Welfare in the implementation of its policies and major programmes in the field of education, particularly school education. The NCERT provides academic and technical support for improvement of school education through its various constituents, which are:
1.        National Institute of Education, New Delhi
2.        Central Institute of Education Technology, New Delhi
3.        Pandit Sunderlal Sharma Central Institute of Vocational Education, Bhopal
4.        Regional Institute of Education, Ajmer
5.        Regional Institute of Education, Bhopal
6.        Regional Institute of Education, Bhubaneswar
7.        Regional Institute of Education, Mysore
8.        North Eastern-Regional Institute of Education, Shillong

The NCERT has set some specific priorities. Some of these compare with those of HSEB whereas in many cases the young HSEB has yet to initiate more.
Implementation of National Curriculum Framework, for example, is the primary goal of both however the   extent  scope each curriculum covers is obviously different. NCERT's scope of grades I–XII is very wide and of all encompassing scale while compared to limited scope of including grades XI–XII for  HSEB. Likewise HSEB has no vocational education wing unlike that of NCERT. Actually it is a most dire need of the country being ignored so far. Likewise special needs education and ECD do not fall under the scope of HSEB yet these are being introduced at lower level education in Nepal. IT and education technology are in their infancy. The HSEB should learn from NCERT and focus on the following:
·           Universalisation of Elementary Education (UEE)
·           Value education
·           Development of exemplary textbooks/ workbooks/ teacher's guide/ supplementary reading materials
·           Production of teaching-learning materials
·           Education of the girl child

Other priorities of NCERT are Identification and nurturing of talent, Guidance and counselling, Improvement in teacher education, International relations. HSEB should expand its functions towards these fields too.

Scope and visions compared
In this section I would like make a comparison of NCERT goals with those of HSEB so that HSEB can draw inspiration from the former.

1.        NCERT undertakes, aids, promotes and coordinates research in all branches of education. This is a key point that accelerates the pace of an institution.
                        Unlike this HSEB has not initiated nor supported any  research work so far. So HSEB  finds very often handicapped while taking decision on  matters of education as it has not been supported by any research activity based on native experience. It cannot say whither our education is heading and which direction it is most likely to take. Research is the direst t needs of the HSEB.
2.        The second goal of NCERT is to organize pre-service and in-service training, mainly at an advanced level.
Unlike this HSEB organizes some short term and refreshers' trainings but there is no provision of training of pre- or - service teachers.
3.        NCERT's third goal is to organize extension services for such institutions as are engaged in educational research, training of teachers or provision of extension services to schools. HSEB has no such a provision.
4.        Fourth is to develop and/or to disseminate improved educational techniques and practices in schools. Due to the lack of research works, HSEB cannot come out with its own discoveries of improved educational techniques. Therefore it does not have to disseminate, however, it disseminates courses newly designed or revised ones.
5.        Fifth is to cooperate with, collaborate and assist the State Education Departments, universities and other educational institutions for the furtherance of its objects. HSEB is doing this to some extent to a limited degree however it does have a conflicting and contending relationship with the university. Some people forced HSEB to stand a rival  of TU concerning the tertiary level education in the past. A smooth harmony is required to repair this now.
6.        Sixth is to  establish and conduct, in any part of the country, such institutions as may be necessary to realize its objectives. HSEB also does this.
7.        Seventh is  to  act as a clearing-house for ideas and information on all matters relating to school education.  HSEB lacks this as it is related to IX–XII only.
8.        Eighth is to  advise the State Governments and other educational organizations and institutions on matters relating to school education. HSEB has a very limited role to play in regards to No's 6, 7 and 8.
9.        Last of all is to  undertake the preparation for and the publication of such books, materials; periodicals and other literature as may be necessary for the furtherance of its objects. HSEB does not own any textbook, it has other publications like journals, teachers' manuals and newsletters.

In this way while we compare HSEB's role and responsibilities with these of NCERT, one can find some similarities and many differences. The scale of work or area for NCERT is immense, the fields are complex and socio-political situation vast. On the contrary, HSEB is quite young and learning from its experiences. Many things of Indian scale, specially questions of MLE, Inclusive Education, Girl Child Education, IT Education, Research   are equally applicable and Nepal's efforts to implement them are praiseworthy. Many things have been universally accepted.

HSEB’s scope and scale limited are smaller. It is a very young institution. Moreover the secondary and lower secondary and primary levels are under some other boards and curriculum development centres. However it is high time now that Nepal’s school education system are clearly  defined demarcated. It should be accelerated through research insights. It should move ahead with the demand of time maintaining a balance between the local and global.


Coles, C., 2003, ‘The development of a curriculum for spinal surgeons’, Observations following the Second Spine Course of the Spinal Society of Europe Barcelona 16th–19th September 2003,
National Curriculum Framework (2005) National Council of Educational Research and Training NCERT,  Delhi.
Rastriya Pathyakram Praroop ( National Curriculum Framework)  ( 2053/2005) Government of Nepal, Ministry of Education and Sports, Curriculum Development Centre, Sanothimi, Bhaktapur.
Wilson, Leslie Owen (2005) Curriculum Index 2003 http//.www.uwsp.edu./education/lwilson/curi/curty.htm

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