The Fault In Our Syllabus: How School Textbooks Give No Space For Individual Growth

Posted on August 29, 2014 in Education

By Devadutta Bhattacharjee:

Culture is the best contraception.

As absurd as it may sound to the regular, level headed logical reader here, it is a popular opinion throughout India. And it matters what people think when one of those people is our own Health Minister. Recently, Dr. Harsh Vardhan went as far as to suggest that faithfulness to one’s partner was the only sure shot way of preventing AIDS- an underlining of culture and morality clearly influencing his statements. So when it comes to including sex education in textbooks, one can imagine what that would consist of. Bird and bees, or a stork by the riverside if we are lucky.

This is just one example, brought into attention by a remark which had sparked a lot of controversy. The truth is, the standard textbooks used by the CBSE, ICSE, ISC or any other board are well structured and carefully planned with proper snippets of information on the side, enriching cartoons and footnotes, but in reality, they allow little or no space for individual opinions to be formulated.

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Right in the very first few pages of most of these books, after the contents, there is an elaborate and tabulated marking scheme, which dictates how many classes a teacher should spend on each topic, how many marks should be allotted to each topic, inadvertently dictating if ‘Consumer Right’ is more important or ‘Democracy’. In this scenario, where a student is given tools to do the bare minimum, there is hardly any attempt for any extra outside reading or out of the box thinking.

Any student who has grown up in a typical Indian education environment can relate that certain subjects like mathematics and the sciences have always been given more importance. The extra ‘tuitions’ are mostly for the sciences. Thus originates the timeless inclination of parents for their children to end up as a doctor or an engineer, or perhaps a lawyer or a journalist if they fail.

The fallacies in the material taught can be found in every page if one looks for it. For example, in a class 7th NCERT textbook, the first chapter is about equal rights, with examples from the universal adult franchise. However, it fails to make students understand that without financial equality, political equality means little to the underprivileged sections. It would be some time before the one-track educated student realizes the right of equality before the judiciary is full of loopholes, rendering them uninterested to the whole concept in the long run.

Studying Literature in CBSE Schools

One of the most commonly voiced grievances regarding this is the lack of literary classics from the English syllabus. While CBSE contents itself with certain short stories and poems and an occasional story by an author these students do recognize from the bestseller stands, the fact remains that our perception of someone being good in literature rests on how many big words a student uses or how he/she answers questions with no perspective at all. They are maybe not told in the exact words, but it is thoroughly implied to all students in their years of schooling that, even though the question asks, what you feel about this or that, they aren’t really asking for your opinion. On multiple occasions, I myself have gone with my red marked answers to the teacher, only to be sent back after being told that my opinion here actually means the author’s/teacher’s opinion.

The complete and utter ignorance of studying literature in the form of books and understanding them in depth is one of the main fallbacks. To this date, students of CBSE wishing to pursue literature can answer the entrance exam questions from To Kill a Mockingbird only if they have read and analyzed it themselves or with some external paid help.

Little Scope for Individual Development

With the 2014 elections, an era of established orthodoxy of the HRD ministry has come to an end with a non-graduate minister in the chair. While we have gotten past a lot of old rules and the textbooks are now more open to the sensitive incidences like the Emergency, the fact remains that there is little scope for individual development of each and every student who is unique in his or her own way.

For someone who has studied in a CBSE board school all her life, an irksome factor is the heavy display of patriotism and Godly references. Patriotism is perfectly acceptable and deemed desirable in textbooks, blind patriotism is not. With freedom fighters and nation leaders being shown in an almost God-like light, no wonder huge masses of people in our nation equate following a politician like following a religion even now.

Lastly, the problem of being lost in translation still exists in every rural area. Lack of proper training of the teachers once the new syllabus is out, or even the unwillingness to teach whatever may be beyond them results in those children learning everything in a lopsided, half correct way.

The Budget this year has proved promising in the education sector, with the arrangements being made for proper sanitation and hygiene which would enable girl students to remain in school, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Andolan, a more gender sensitive syllabus. But unless mainstream syllabuses aren’t contemporized, all these new measures would serve little to the target masses and in the end just fall back in regular, criticized lines like the current syllabus. It’s time to step back and see things from a new perspective now, because what we read and write today will make us what we are tomorrow.