Prof C. B Sharma – Chairman NIOS Board, India being shown the Aloe Vera field of NEEV by Shikha
Last weekend we had a surprise visitor to NEEV – Prof. C. B Sharma, who happens to be the Chairman of NIOS Board India. He was on a tour to Jamshedpur for his work when one of our NEEV friends Jayashree, an ardent supporter and customer of NEEV Soaps talked to Prof Sharma about our work. Piqued by this, he graciously decided to pay us a visit. Unfortunately or fortunately, it being a Saturday, NEEV Vidyalaya was closed, so he came to visit us at our NEEV Herbal Cosmetics Unit in Hurlung.
For us it was a bolt from the blue but something that could not have delighted us more. Given our penchant love for NIOS, his visit, like so many incidents in NEEV was a godsend – an event that happened at the right place and at the right time, with a precision that can be manufactured only by the cosmic will.
What followed after he came was a freewheeling discussion on issues relating to education, the aims and objectives of NIOS as well as the unique vision of NEEV’s education. There was also an interesting discussion on how NIOS faces the daunting challenge of providing education at such a low cost of Rs. 1500/student for registration and Rs. 1800 as exam fees when the operating costs per student is much higher.
Our daughter Harshal who is due to appear for her NIOS Board exams in October 2016 as well as our five teachers – Anjali, Babu, Simi, Sourin and Suraj who just passed NIOS Secondary examinations and due to appear for NIOS Senior Secondary exams in 2018 were also present in the meeting. They got the rare opportunity to raise questions and discuss issues about NIOS first hand with Prof Sharma, who answered all their questions with remarkable patience and concern.
It is rare to come across a man of such humility. Not only was he a proactive and eloquent speaker but also a great listener. The NIOS website gives a brief of the amount of work he has done in education. I am just culling a certain portion from it.
“Dr. Chandra B. Sharma the Chairman is Professor of Education on deputation from the School of Education, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi. He has recently been on a three member committee constituted by the Government of India to draft the Distance Education Council of India Bill 2015, likely to be placed before the Parliament . This Act will set the future of distance education in India. He has been the Director of the Distance Education Programme of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (DEP-SSA) an MHRD-IGNOU project. DEP-SSA was a national project of the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) Government of India. The project assisted all Indian states in preparing master trainers for quality improvement of Elementary education. He has served the open distance learning (ODL) system for nearly two and half decades. Before joining the ODL he taught at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) New Delhi. He has been on various statutory bodies (Academic Council, Board of Management/Board of Governors etc. and also the Visitor’s (President of India) nominee on selection committee) of various ODL as well as traditional institutions. He has been nominated by IGNOU as well as invited to national committees on various areas like 11th Plan, Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan (SSA), Rastriya Madhyamik Siksha Abhiyaan (RMSA), National Mission on Education – Information and Communication Technologies (NME-ICT), UGC Visiting Committees, National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) teams, National Council for Teacher Education planning as well as visiting teams, DEC-UGC-AICTE inspection committees etc. He has written as well as taken part in many national as well as state level educational planning discussion and brainstorming. He has also been invited to be Visiting Professor at various universities, besides been invited by international agencies like the World Bank for research studies.
Prof. Sharma was invited by the Linnaeus University (Sweden) to deliver the key note address on Entrepreneurship and Education in India, and half a dozen other Nordic Universities to lecture on educational collaboration with Indian universities during March-April 2014.”
There were three more short paragraphs describing the work he has done, but I stopped short of quoting them because I guess this is more than enough to give an idea of the breadth and depth of work Prof Sharma has done in education. But despite this, I could see how keenly he listened to my views on education.
After our discussion, we took Prof Sharma around to show around the NEEV Herbal Cosmetics Unit and the land site where the new NEEV CIL School is being constructed.
Above: Prof Sharma being shown the Herbal Fields around NEEV Herbal Cosmetics Unit, Hurlung by Shikha
Below: Prof Sharma visiting the land site where the NEEV CIL School is being constructed
The trip of Prof Bhushan ended with a cementing of relationship between NEEV and NIOS because there is a great communion between the vision of these two organizations. Both of them are concerned about a revolution in education. The communion of visions was manifested into a concrete reality when Prof Sharma suggested that we become an accredited centre for NIOS Board’s OBE (Open Basic Education) course. This would provide NEEV with accredition to teach, conduct exams and certify children as well as adult neo-literates at three levels – upto Class 3, upto Class 6 and upto Class 8.
This morning we received a letter of invitation from the Regional Director of NIOS Ranchi, to become an accredited institution for NIOS OBE Program. We see this as a step in a direction to cause a revolution in education. Below is a write-up on why we require a revolution in education and how the communion of NEEV and NIOS can cause such a revolution.
REVOLUTION IN EDUCATION – NEEV + NIOS
Education and revolution are perhaps two words that do not seem to share much in common at first sight. While education springs up images of children with their heads buried in books, revolution conjures images of flags, protests and angry mobs charging at barricades. We hear of social revolutions, political revolutions, religious revolutions and cultural revolutions but we have yet to hear of something that the world today needs the most – an education revolution.While the word education evokes the goodwill and empathy of most thinking people and there is scarce a soul that does not nod his head in agreement for the need of educating children, very few are willing to find what education is all about. What seems to be an innocuous activity of mere transfer of knowledge, actually holds the key to the transformation of man and world. This is because education mirrors the state of society – it’s priorities, it’s politics, it’s economics, it’s culture and it’s religion.
Is education today a mere appendage of an industrial, capitalistic regime churning out selfish individuals interested in mere self advancement and serving the system or education retains the right to create minds that can question and lead a life of freedom and self reliance?
Looking at the four roomed enclosures we call classrooms, stuffed with benches and desks in neat rows, one cannot miss seeing how it resembles the production line of a factory where products go through various stages of finishing by applying standardized procedures. Not a grain of autonomy is afforded to the ‘products’ of the classroom. Everything is predetermined, standardized, assessed, measured and waste products discarded as in a factory. The skills and capacities of children are attended to like the wrapping and packaging of products, intended to lure people by looks and outward gloss while the real thing inside, the soul, the heart, the love remains slumbering.
And then what about the politics of education? Is it mere transformation of knowledge and information to all or is it mired in consideration of class and wealth? Is there universal access to education or on the contrary, education has become the machine for engineering class distinctions, where the rich can buy degrees and rise up the socio-economic ladder.
So what we need today is education which is democratic, flexible, holistic and all inclusive. We need an education that cuts across barriers of age, class, that is sensitive to the needs of an individual, that nurtures and cares for him rather than make him cower with fear under the cane of a teacher. We need an education that can happen anytime anywhere at any pace, without mounds of investment. We need an education that teaches self reliance as a way of living rather than giving the message that it is your class, status and money that determines the life you are going to lead. And last of all we need an education that confers equal respect to the work of hands, head and heart so that we can bring about a world without inequality.
And we get all of this in NIOS.
Considered to be the largest open schooling system in the world, the NIOS Board conducts exams for about 5 lakhs students every year.
The certification given by NIOS is at par with two National Level Boards – CBSE and ICSE
Now lets consider the vision and mission of NIOS. I have highlighted in bold the key points which match with NEEV’s philosphy of Integral Living
- “Sustainable inclusive learning with universal and flexible access to quality school education and skill development.”
- Providing relevant, continuing and holistic education up to pre-degree level through Open and Distance Learning System.
- Contributing to the Universalisation of School Education.
- Catering to the educational needs of the prioritized target groups for equity and social justice.
Let’s take a look at the NIOS song
To fill our lives with light
And illuminate our path
Let’s be our own light
And choose the road to tread upon
The school free from constraints of time, resources and coffers
Offers to read anytime anywhere
With plethora of choices at any age
Friends let us arise and awake
And discern the destination
The door is always open at NIOS
With the options of learning and getting assessed
Not once but again and again
Of the many centres on the globe
Let’s opt for one of them
The song abounds with a sense of generosity, an inclusiveness and care. Rather than being a system of elimination, one can see the spirit of invitation and great patience. The thrust here is not to fail you as an individual but to provide you with every opportunity to empower yourself. The song talks about being self reliant, about helping oneself rather than relying on on infrastructure, money and teachers.
Textbooks that raise fundamental questions – Snippets from NIOS Text Books
Not only does NIOS have a grand and noble vision, it also has absolutely amazing course content. Unlike text books of other boards which a blind worshipers of human progress, unquestioningly hailing advancements in science and technology as the ascent of man, the NIOS text books raise fundamental questions for children to think about the direction man has taken. The NIOS books
In fact I read some paragraphs to Prof. Bhushan to show the subtlety and nuanced nature of questioning that NIOS brings about. Here I am providing two examples of questioning done in their social science textbook of secondary level.
Look at the respect accorded to the life of Paleolithic people. Look at how progress is not just blindly assumed. Look at the respect that has been accorded to nature. And all this has been done in the form of an open ended question. To me this is revolution !
And here there is another example
Look at how progress has not been hailed unanimously and pompously. Look at how the luxuries of the few have been contrasted with not even basic amenities lacking for many. Look at how the text makes us realize that we cannot be resting on our laurels of science and technology. There are many, many problems to be addressed in the world and these problems are about things as fundamental as water, health and education.
And the next snippet I am providing is the clincher. It is enough fuel for a true educator to engage children with for the whole of their life. A school like NEEV which wants to develop leaders, social entrepreneurs and change agents who shall help the world towards Integral Living cannot find a better check list of tasks they need to undertake. Those who feel that there is nothing that needs to do in the world and everything is hunky-dory can dip into this list and try solving at least one of these problems. I haven’t seen anything like this in the text books of ICSE Borad which I used to teach earlier.
There is a line which almost entirely states Integral Living philosophy – “The relationship of humans with self, society, and nature should inspire us to create a society in which all of us rather than only a few could lead a gainful life” Just this one sentence is enough for me to be a die-hard NIOS fan.
I do have a different view on Nationalism and love for country. I believe we can substitute it with Global Family and love for the whole earth. Leaving this, I think the list is brilliant.
I could go on and on with one brilliant snippet after another from the Social Science as well as Science, English and Hindi Textbooks of NIOS pointing to the Integral Living philosophy of NEEV. But I guess, I shall reserve this for future posts hoping that I have sufficiently made my point of the unique nature of NIOS Textbooks to spark questioning and self inquiry in students. For me it was pure joy teaching Social Science to my kids and for Shikha, teaching Social Science became a life changing experience. Hopefully she can write about it someday.
Not only Social Science but also Science, English and Hindi books have gem like material to develop an Integrated, sensitive human being with leadership qualities. For example take a look at this exercise. This is a kind of situation that I have seen actually developing in our school.
Other student friendly features of NIOS
- From classroom to anywhere
- Freedom from the tyranny of schools who hold the power of certification
- From teacher centric to learner centric
- Students can pace their learning and appear for selected subjects in their board exams
- From teacher as an instructor to teacher as a facilitator
- From fixed time to anytime learning
- From “you learn what we offer” to“we offer what you want to learn”.
- From education as one time activity to education as life long activity
- Equal stress on vocational education
- Free access to learning material from website. No buying of expensive books from different publishers
To sum it up : in NIOS we have a board which is inclusive, inexpensive, universal, flexible, generous , responsive and with an amazing course content. I consider it a matter of great ignorance that parents and children are stuck with the notion that good education comes by paying money and getting children admitted in schools with glossy buildings. I consider it a matter of great shame that parents who consider themselves ‘educated’ are not able to discern the enormous intelligence and opportunity for learning that is embedded in NIOS.
Despite my having written this article, I know that the trenchant class divisions shall still rule, that parents will still bother about status quo rather than true education in choosing for their children. When I decided to switch from ICSE to NIOS Board, I faced difficulties from all quarters – teachers, students and parents; several teachers left school, 40 children were pulled out by their parents. But I remain wedded or perhaps welded to the democratic vision of NIOS Board. What is at stake is a movement, a revolution to make this world a better place through education.
At least I shall depart with the sense that I left no stone unturned to do my bit in this great cosmic drama.