Indian education system: A sigh of relief

Safi H. Jannaty

At last the Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD) of India realized the burden of studies on students and cut the syllabus by half from academic year 2019. The HRD Minister, Prakash Javadekar rightly admitted that the syllabus of some subjects was equivalent to what should be taught in graduate level classes. He said: “At the stage of development of cognitive skills, students need to be given full freedom.” There will be some other changes in the examination system and students will be given one more chance to pass exams before being forced to repeat the year.

I always wondered what was making my daughter who is in the ninth grade keep her head in books and notes of social studies subjects for days and days on end. When she showed me the syllabus that was set for final exams, I scratched my head first in bewilderment and then in agony. Nineteen long chapters covering five main sections of the subject: history, geography, political science, economics and disaster management for students who have yet to reach the final year of secondary education.

While it is not uncommon to have the main subject subdivided into different branches of studies, the content of each section seemed to me too cumbersome for IX grade students and the same must be the case with the syllabus for other grades. Although, it is important for students to be aware of national and international history as well as the way and the manner in which the country and the world has evolved, it is quite a burden for students who do not have an interest in becoming historians or history teachers to study so deep and so much.

Of what use will dissecting the effects of Nazism or the details of the Munich Pact be in their future careers? And what is the benefit for students in knowing about the family of Hitler’s propaganda minister and what had happened to them? It might be fine to learn a bit about deforestation and its impact on the environment from a geographical or climate change perspective; but the need to study a 20-page chapter in the history section that deals with the forest laws during the British Colonial period in India and how that affected deforestation is puzzling.

Besides details about different tribes living on forest produce and their rebellion against colonial restrictions on different types of cultivation in forests and the forceful compulsion by British forces to cultivate commercial crops by clearing forests, the chapter covers the situation which Javanese tribes encountered with Dutch Colonialists and then the Japanese invaders in that distant land.

When I looked at the political science section, I wondered if an undergraduate course syllabus would cover more than what is being taught to ninth grade students now. When it comes to human rights, the chapter covers in details the human rights violations reported in Guantanamo Bay. A long chapter on democracy not only wades through the elements and components of numerous democratic institutions and the detailed working of these institutions, but also covers the vast issues related to the process of elections and political representation in India. The pitfalls of the apartheid system and curtailment of political, economic and social rights in different jurisdictions have all been dealt with in the section. Different elements of the constitution of India, debates in the constituent assembly that drafted the constitution, constitutional provisions, constitutional rights, constitutional remedies and the judicial system made me feel like I was looking at a crash course on constitutional law.

In the economics section, the topics that are usually taught in undergraduate level classes were all in the curriculum meant for secondary school students. These topics stretch from the alleviation of poverty, green revolution in India, food security and shortages to the definition of human capital and unemployment issues. It even includes a case study of a village and that students are required to be thoroughly familiar with.

The lessons included in the geography section require students to learn different mountain ranges spread across the country, their impact on climate, different types of vegetation and wildlife besides an extensive study of the river systems and other water bodies flowing across the length and breadth of India.

The worksheet, which is like a model paper for the exam consisted of 16 pages and on average, students fill in around 24 sheets of papers during the three hour exam.

Added to this complex syllabus is the complicated system and methods of periodic assessments. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has brought back the old system of examinations where students are assessed thoroughly during three terms (first term, middle term and final term) besides being tested every month in class tests. The difficult part of the whole exercise is the cumulative system that keeps increasing with each term until the final term where it covers the full syllabus of the subject for the entire year. This means that students must study or revise over (20) chapters of five sections of social studies subjects.

Since the weight of final exams is 80 percent of the final marks and rankings for the year, students spend sleepless nights during final exams to score as many marks as possible to obtain higher rankings which will ensure getting admission into the courses of their choice in the higher secondary level. Earlier, the assessments were done as formative and substantive assessments spread over a total of four periods during the year and portions of the syllabuses were distributed between the two substantive assessments periods. Therefore, students were not required to study or revise the portion already covered in the first substantive assessment. From a psychological perspective, students were more relaxed because they had less to revise for the two separate semester exams.

Academicians and educationists the world over have been emphasizing that education is a matter of learning and not just grading. The focus of education should always be the imparting of knowledge to enhance the abilities of students to question, ponder and learn rather than mugging up material or employing the rote method of learning which has been discarded in most developed countries. There is no point or gain in turning students into repeating parrots or reading and writing machines. In fact, one scholar aptly remarked that the British and other European nations ruling different countries in the Asian and African continents developed an almost universal system of education in jurisdictions under their control just to churn out clerks and bureaucrats to help them manage those nations in an identical manner. Their main objective was to make those graduates read, write and understand their instructions and act thereupon without much deliberations or questioning.

Unfortunately, many of those countries continued with the same old system of education even after achieving independence. This archaic system of education kept churning out graduates in huge numbers year after year. As they are not in touch and tune with changing trends and technologies, they are forced to undertake clerical or menial jobs. Many find that they have no option but to do some vocational course or training in order to get a job.

There is a great need to overhaul the Indian education system to make it more interesting, student friendly and simple.

Safi H. Jannaty,