Political considerations should not dictate government decisions related to education

I'm glad that I am not in school anymore — that is the feeling I am left with as the current academic year comes to a close. No school student should ever be subjected to the kind of uncertainty and turbulence that this batch saw.

One of the earliest decisions taken soon after the AIADMK assumed power in the State was to defer the implementation of Samacheer Kalvi — uniform syllabus for all streams — from classes I to X that the DMK-government had introduced. The new government felt the DMK's initiative brought down the standard of the syllabus and took objection to some references made in the textbooks to leaders and achievements of the party. So it took an extreme position and said it will not be implemented, ignoring the fact that students in classes I and VI were already following it.

The move, besides evoking criticism, sparked a series of legal proceedings. The issue even went to the Supreme Court and in August 2011, it directed the State government to implement the syllabus. All this meant that in addition to a delayed start, this batch of students did not know what exactly they were going to learn during the first three months of the academic year. And the textbooks, when they finally arrived, seemed like a warzone to me — pages, pictures and passages had been crudely tampered with to black out all references to DMK leader Karunanidhi. Despite all this, a class VI boy I met at a Chennai Corporation-run school told me: “Akka, our new textbooks have more pictures. They are very colourful.” The government may be intending to provide equal access to education, but policymakers cannot afford to let curricular decisions be coloured by politics.

On a recent trip to Germany, I had an opportunity to get an idea of a very similar move in that country, where education is a state subject. In the state of Baden-Württemberg, where the conservative Christian Democratic Union which was in power for decades until 2011, was following a system of segregating students after primary education based on their performance. The “good students” make it to a Grammar School, “average performers” go to a middle school and the rest typically go to a basic school which focuses on vocational education. The coalition of the Greens and Social Democrats that came to power in the state last year, is trying to change this practice through a community school system. This, I thought, was an interesting parallel to Samacheer Kalvi, which also seeks to merge different streams holding different tags of quality.

Michael C. Hermann, Head of Political Decisions, Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, in Stuttgart, told me that in the proposed community schools there will be no separation of pupils, they would be in schools together “There will be children who are very clever in some subjects and some who have problems. This forces a new kind of pedagogy where the teacher helps pupils to find individual ways of development,” he said. The government there plans to start 30 to 35 community schools by September 2012. “We want to start slowly. We want to do a good job, giving them all the information and support that is needed to be successful,” Dr. Hermann said.

I thought there was an important message in “starting slowly and doing a good job”. What children should learn and how they should be taught are not matters that the Cabinet of ministers alone is necessarily equipped to decide. The present government made a costly error on that front when it came to power last year. It should, at least now, make amends by pursuing an earnest exercise of reviewing the new syllabus.

Meera Srinivasan is the Deputy City Editor of The Hindu.

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Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012