The Cabinet's decision to constitute an experts' committee to look into the issue of improving the quality of school education, in the context of the implementation of Samacheer Kalvi (Equitable Standard School Education), has come as a surprise to many in academic circles.

Speaking to The Hindu here on Sunday, School Education Minister C. Ve. Shanmugham said that while implementing Samacheer Kalvi was very important, sections of parents, educationists and the media felt that the standard of the common syllabus evolved was not one that would improve the quality of education.

The experts' committee, he said, would analyse the reports brought out by committees involved in the exercise earlier. “The committee will analyse the syllabus in detail. It will consult all the stakeholders and reflect on enhancing the overall quality of education itself, while making it equitable,” Mr. Shanmugham said. He added that the new textbooks would be made available by June 15, the new date of reopening for schools.

Sources in the Directorate of Teacher Education, Research and Training (DTERT), the agency responsible for getting textbook content ready for print, said they were in the process of identifying printers who could bring out the textbooks for the current academic year on time.

Ever since the State government appointed a committee headed by S. Muthukumaran, former Vice-Chancellor of Bharathidasan University, in 2006, to look into the possibilities of introducing equitable standard education in schools, different sections have voiced their concerns and opinion on the matter.

Aspects such as whether the common syllabus was made heavier or was diluted, whether schools should have a choice on the medium of instruction and whether all the stakeholders were consulted adequately have periodically been in focus.

At one point, former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi clarified that equitable standard school education did not mean imposition of the syllabus of one stream on others. A common syllabus would be prepared, incorporating the best of all the streams, he had said. After much deliberation and several debates, the State government in August 2009 announced that equitable standard school education would be implemented from the academic year commencing in June 2010.

It did so, introducing the common syllabus for class I and VI to start with. The plan was to extend the newly evolved common syllabus from II to V and from VII to X in the academic year beginning June 2011, thereby covering all the classes.

Implications

Now that the new government has spelt out its position on Samcheer Kalvi, schoolteachers, especially those handling class X, are in a fix.

Thanks to the prevailing culture of beginning the next academic year's syllabus during the current academic session for students about to go to the ‘board examination years', many teachers have covered certain concepts and chapters based on the Samacheer Kalvi proposals and draft syllabi shared earlier.

A total of nine crore books that were being printed as per the previous government's Samacheer Kalvi syllabus will not be used now.

An estimated Rs.200 crore was spent on the exercise.

Heads of some schools, who believed that the syllabus had been diluted, said they were relieved. N. Vijayan, general secretary, Federation of Matriculation Schools' Associations in Tamil Nadu, said: “Parents tell us that they admit their children to our schools expecting a certain quality. They were very upset seeing the syllabus given as per Samacheer Kalvi. Now, they are very happy.”

However, educationist V. Vasanthi Devi maintains that the State Board syllabus is on a par with, if not better, than the Matriculation syllabus. On Samacheer Kalvi, she said: “The previous government had only evolved a common syllabus. That does not amount to Samacheer Kalvi. In order to ensure equitable education, several aspects pertaining to quality – such as recruitment of teachers, a strong regulatory mechanism and infrastructure in schools have to be given attention.”

Emphasising that the new government should accord top priority to the implementation of the Right To Education Act, she said: “Children should not be made to pay the price. Education is too fundamental an issue for opposing political interests to use to make a point.”