Will the Government succeed in ensuring a common curriculum in schools?
Syed Rizwan Geelani
The Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education (BOSE) in December 2023 issued a fresh notification directing all private schools to prescribe textbooks published by the Board for all classes, from 1st primary to class 12th, starting from the upcoming 2024-25 academic session.
This marks the fifth such notification in the past five years- from 2016 to 2023, emphasizing the implementation of a common curriculum across all government and private recognized schools in Jammu and Kashmir.
To ensure strict adherence to the directive, the JK Board in its latest notification invoked Section (10) of the JKBOSE Act, 1975, along with amendments under the Reorganization Act, 2019, dated October 5, 2020.
The Board justified its action by citing the Act’s provisions, which grant the Board the authority to prescribe courses of instruction, prepare curricula and syllabi, and prescribe textbooks for various levels of education.
Despite previous circulars in 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2022, the implementation of a common curriculum has faced several challenges.
The crux of the issue lies in the perennial struggle between the government’s attempts to establish a common curriculum and the private schools’ resistance.
Private schools have been accused of making money by prescribing textbooks from private publishers, exacerbating the financial burden on parents.
Following the issuance of fresh circular instructions by JKBOSE, the association of booksellers came up with their grievances saying that the JKBOSE decision to have a common curriculum will affect their business. The booksellers have urged the government to withdraw their decision to safeguard the business of the booksellers.
The directive to adopt a common curriculum in all schools has been issued as the private schools have been accused of exploiting parents by prescribing textbooks from private publishers at exorbitant rates, which are not readily available in the open market but supplied to specific bookshops.
But the government’s failure to implement its own circulars has added to the complexity of the situation.
Circular instructions issued in January 2023 were delayed due to legal challenges, resulting in a setback for the 2023 academic session. The instructions were challenged by the private school body in court, however the Court announced a decision in favour of JKBOSE following which the fresh instructions were issued in December 2023.
Earlier, the Private school body had raised queries over the quality of paper and content of JKBOSE textbooks and urged the government to relax the rules in the interest of the students.
In response to concerns raised by private schools in early 2023, the JK Board assured review of the syllabi, content and the paper quality besides claiming the timely distribution of textbooks to all private schools. However, the reality on the ground did not align with the government’s claims, as textbooks were not distributed on time, leading private schools to continue with their own curriculum for lower classes.
The 2023 academic session witnessed a significant delay in textbook distribution, affecting both students and teachers and disrupting the overall academic schedule.
The 2023 marked the first March session in all the schools and the JKBOSE had enough time to complete the process in time but ironically it failed to come to the expectations of the stakeholders.
According to the official schedule notified by JKBOSE in 2023, the process for distributing textbooks was set to commence on April 5, 2023. The books were expected to reach all zones across Kashmir by the last week of April or the first week of May. However, this timeline was not met, leaving students at the receiving end.
Following the delay in distribution of textbooks, the JKBOSE notified another schedule for distribution of textbooks wherein the process extended till July ending. This was seen as a main weakness of the JK Board as it could not distribute textbooks in government schools on time, not to talk of private schools.
The delayed distribution of textbooks was one of the major hurdles for the department. While textbooks were supposed to be distributed from April 5, 2023, they reached some schools as late as July. This posed a challenge for both students and teachers, affecting the overall academic schedule.
Despite this, in December 2023, the JKBOSE issued strict instructions for private schools to adopt its prescribed textbooks for classes 1st to 12th, threatening cancellation of registration for any deviation.
This move has sparked a debate over the implementation of a common curriculum, especially as private schools are contemplating a switch to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
Most of the renowned schools from north to south Kashmir districts are processing their files for affiliation with CBSE.
In June 2023, the Ministry of Education (MoE) sought a timeline for the affiliation of JKBOSE-affiliated schools with CBSE, raising questions about the future role of JKBOSE as the regulatory authority for government and private schools.
As stakeholders express concerns over the continuity of JKBOSE, the conflict between the Ministry’s pursuit of CBSE affiliation and the Board’s directive to adopt its textbooks adds to the complexity of the situation.
While the implementation of a common curriculum is a positive step for equalizing educational opportunities, the real challenge lies in whether BOSE authorities can effectively enforce these directives on the ground. Only time will reveal the extent of the impact of these recent developments on the education landscape in Jammu and Kashmir. (GK)