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Irrational syllabus

CBSE’s decision to scrap important chapters — on secularism, federalism and ecology — is both illogical and wrong

Irrational syllabus
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The prolonged pandemic has jolted many a sector, education being one of them. With COVID-19 cases in India breaching the 8-lakh mark, preparations to reopen educational institutions seem a distant eventuality. Hanging in the balance, however, is the future of thirty-two crore school and college students. Those who have the means have transitioned to online classes equipped with laptops and high-speed internet connections. Those who cannot afford it stare at a bleak future unless the Government steps in to aid schools that cater to students from economically weak backgrounds. This historic phase in our lives is forcing everyone to learn to survive in the new world while continuing with some semblance of normal life. For school authorities, the most important question remains — if, when, and how to conduct examinations; the chosen way in India to evaluate a student's proficiency in school or college.

During World Wars I and II, education had come to a screeching halt. The high school dropout rates were high in countries such as the US, which were fighting the war. This COVID-19 outbreak is almost like a war; only here, the enemy is invisible and unpredictable. The education sector too, therefore, needs to think out-of-the-box and come up with solutions that are better suited to COVID-19 times. The University Grants Commission (UGC), for instance, has decided to go ahead with examinations for graduating students. The higher education regulator has advised universities and colleges to complete the examination process by September-end. Examinations will be conducted online, offline or as a hybrid of both.

This week in a bid to apparently rationalise the syllabus, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) also came up with a solution. The board decided to reduce the syllabus by scrapping essential chapters such as 'Citizenship', 'Nationalism', 'Secularism', 'Federalism', 'Security in the Contemporary World', 'Environment and Natural Resources', 'Social and New Movements in India', and 'Regional Aspirations'. Students from Classes 9 to 12, will not be studying our country's relationship with its neighbours (Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka) or about the disastrous policy decision of 'Demonetisation' that wiped out almost 2 per cent of the country's GDP (gross domestic product). Recently, the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) too opted for a 25 per cent reduction in the syllabus but not by deleting entire chapters; instead, it asked National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to suggest topics and themes that overlap in the existing syllabus.

CBSE's decision came at the behest of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) that directed the board to reduce the syllabus by 30 per cent to alleviate the burden on students already reeling from school closures due to COVID-19. Opposition leaders such as Shashi Tharoor, Manish Sisodia, Mamata Banerjee, Sitaram Yechury, among others, slammed the decision to deplete the syllabus by removing 'vital' chapters. After the furore that ensued, CBSE clarified that the axing of the chapters was done only for examinations, both internal and board exams.

Now, it has been a long time since I was a student but I do not think Generation Z is all that different from how we were. Very few students study for the love of a subject; especially in India, where you are reared and trained by parents and teachers to 'sit' for exams. Why then would students even pay attention to chapters that they will not be assessed on? No matter then that these deleted chapters carry the core of our Indian government and systems. Should children not understand the foundation of our Constitution that rests on 'secularism'? Will they comprehend the way the Centre and the state governments function without the important lesson on federalism? Not learning about ecology and evolution while we are neck-deep in a global pandemic is both ironic and alarming. Many of these chapters that have been left out carry life lessons; those which should be far more important to the growth and development of young minds than just scoring marks. And if our educators are taking such myopic decisions, then our younger generations have more to worry about than just exams.

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal

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