Uniform curriculum, common exam will not breed equality

Uniform curriculum, common exam will not breed equality

Uniform curriculum, common exam will  not breed equality

There are about three dozen Boards of School Education in the country with each State having one or two, besides two all-India Boards (Central Board of Secondary Education and Indian Council of School Certificate Examination) which prescribe courses of study, prescribe or recommend textbooks and conduct examinations at the end of secondary (Class X) and senior secondary (Class XII) stages in Indian school system.(Some States have two Boards - one for the secondary stage and another for the senior secondary stage.) They have a  Council of Boards of School Education (COBSE), which meets at regular intervals to discuss common issues. The Boards are generally represented by their Chairpersons/Secretaries at these meetings. The Boards enjoy a very important position in the educational system for they certify, on the basis of examinations that they conduct, the level of the student’s achievement. The certificate they issue is the sole indicator of the student’s academic achievement during her ten or twelve years of schooling. The decision that the Council took at its meeting held on February 16 has been hailed by Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, who was present, as a ‘milestone in the history of education’.

 The decision - the ‘milestone’ - was the adoption by the 20 participating Boards of a core curriculum in science (Chemistry, Physics, Biology) and Mathematics at the senior secondary stage. The meaning of the word ‘core’ in what the 20 Boards adopted is still not clear because the document that they adopted has still not been released. The word is sometimes used to describe areas/subjects that are compulsory at a particular stage of education. For example, language(s), physical education and, some years ago, General Studies formed the core curriculum at the senior secondary stage while all other subjects were optional or electives with the student having, theoretically, the freedom to select any three or four of them for her study. The ‘core’ can also mean the most important part of a curriculum. For example, the 1986 National Policy on Education laid down certain areas such as freedom struggle, secularism, scientific temper as core areas. It seems that the Council’s ‘core’ is of a somewhat different nature. There has been much concern over the years at what the NCERT’s 2005 curriculum document referred to as ‘the maddening multiplicity of entrance examinations’ for admission to professional colleges, mainly for engineering and medicine. What the Council decided to do, to curb this ‘maddening’ situation, was to study the question papers of the entrance examinations and identify areas/topics on which questions are asked in the entrance examinations.

The areas/topics thus identified will be added to the existing syllabuses of State Boards and there will then be a common or uniform curriculum in science and mathematics throughout the country. This is expected to be followed by a common examination in these subjects. The experts who identified these areas/topics are not known. They almost certainly did not include the faculty of the NCERT, which is the premier national level body in the area of school curriculum. It may be recalled that the NCERT had brought out a national curriculum framework in 2005 and, later, syllabuses and textbooks in all school subjects and school stages. It is not known whether the NCERT has also been asked to add the new areas/topics to its own syllabuses in sciences and mathematics and thus add to the curriculum load which has been its primary concern since 2005.

Questionable tailoring

The decision has given rise to many misgivings. The academic propriety of tailoring school curricula to the requirements of entrance examinations for admission to engineering and medical colleges is seriously questionable. Such tailoring may also further damage the already sad situation of pure sciences in higher education with the preponderant importance being given to professional courses. The Minister is stated to have asked the Council, according to newspapers, to work towards a single entrance examination by 2013 in each discipline where entrance examinations are conducted for entering professional courses. There has been no reference to any consultation with professional institutions while formulating the ‘core’ curriculum.

Core curriculum

The most surprising part in the press reports on the ‘milestone’ decision is the statement of Mr Sibal, which reflects a total ignorance of the poor state of science and mathematics education in the country’s schools. He is reported to have said, “What it means is that in all schools of India affiliated to boards that are members of COBSE, the core curriculum will be taught, so that all our children have a level playing field.” The vast majority of schools in the country have little infrastructure for science and mathematics education, virtually no science and mathematics laboratories or extremely ill-equipped ones, and few competent and trained teachers. Level playing field will not be created by a core curriculum or by a single entrance examination. It can be created only by improving the quality of education in science and mathematics in all schools. This can be done only through a concerted plan to provide the necessary infrastructure, including labs, to all schools in the country and by a massive in-service training programme to enhance the competence of teachers as well as improving the quality of pre-service teacher education.
In the absence of these, the new ‘core’ will only add another new element to the existing inequalities in school education. The idea of the level playing field will recede even further. What the Minister has said is not acceptable even as rhetoric; it is, to understate it, wholly inappropriate.

(The writer is a former professor  of History at NCERT)

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