The UPA-I was notorious for its comatose, narrow-minded approach to education. UPA-II on the reverse has an HRD Minister brimming with new ideas. Most of them are innovative, agreeable and long overdue, but in the federal system difficult to implement. There is consensus only on one aspect, that our education system has become archaic and it needs urgent overhaul. We have discussed many debilitating aspects of this system in these columns, so we confine now to the latest, the suggestion to rationalise the school boards.
Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has suggested that the 41 school boards of the country adopt “a uniform core curriculum” for mathematics, science and commerce. Reports say that most of the state boards have initially welcomed the suggestion. Perhaps they can include economics, history and other arts subjects also in this pattern. This is not to ignore the fact that history is the most controversial of all subjects when it comes to curriculum review. But for a nation to evolve a nationalist, unitary mind frame it is essential to have a common, correct and captivating idea of its past. A disoriented, doubtful and self-flagellating history can hardly help promote national pride in the young minds.
The sheer volume of the syllabus of the Indian curriculum is mind-boggling. Children are forced to learn by rote, information, not knowledge. Be it science, maths or social studies, the emphasis is on quantity. For example, for a child not interested in pursuing science, the massive volume of science he or she learns upto 10th standard is irrelevant. The lesson on atom discusses a series of many models, since the 19th century, which were all proved wrong subsequently. What the child needs to learn is the contemporary science not the centuries of trial and error history. They are forced to learn the Thomson model, the Dalton model and others which were rejected by later scientific developments.
The syllabus for maths, which has been found to be the fault line for thousands of children, is heavy and scary. It does not make sense to give children three attempts to pass the maths exam, as was proposed by the CBSE. The need is for making the maths learning interesting so that they have some remnant of interest in the subject. The curriculum rather scares away children from pursuing science as a career.
In social sciences the situation turns terrible. Children of 6th and 7th standards learn as part of history the names of various gods in Egyptian and Greek religions, which are non-existent today. A 9th standard student learns about the division and unification of various countries in Europe, the leaders of the time, the treaties they signed. These nations’ boundaries do not exist today and this learning makes it absolutely irrelevant. The contents of Indian history do not cross the Vindhyas. They are full of north-Indian political manoeuvres, especially the Moghul courts. The references to south Indian kingdoms and kings are at best passing or rare. They indeed made magnificent impact on our national history.
Most students probably cannot remember all the state names and their capitals in India, but the geography syllabus is loaded with world scene. This is true of civics also. In political science the 9th standard student is made to learn comparative socio-economic history of Chile, Poland and Bolivia. These are some points with regard to the CBSE syllabus, as prescribed by the NCERT. The scenario changes dramatically when it comes to the state board syllabus. In comparison they appear inadequate. While on the one hand, a select group of students suffers from over-burdened education, forcing them to take the support of tuitions, the larger student community in the country suffers denial of equal opportunities. The non-uniformity also breeds the class difference between public schools (which in India means private ownership) and government schools. But making a uniform syllabus and standard may not be an easy task because it will require upgrading the skills of the teachers also uniformly. Banning of textbooks by private publishers will add a lot of strength to the core curriculum proposal of the minister. Coaching classes, book publishers and schools are huge business ventures now. It would need immense political will to carry through the idea. It is a wait and watch situation, to see if Sibal can do it.