Perspectives Education

Is four too many?

Does the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to decrease the number of electives in higher secondary help students or not?

The Higher Secondary Course (HSC) in Tamil Nadu is in for a significant change in the 2020-21 academic year. Apart from two languages, students can now choose three optional subjects, as against the earlier four. This is supposed to reduce academic strain and relieve students of the burden of the fourth subject, which may not be necessary for their higher studies. However, this concept is questionable.

Already tested

A similar change was made in 1986, for the 1986-88 batch of students. At that time, BE/BTech and MBBS were the most preferred programmes. Many aspirants were ready to try both streams. Educational administrators of the time, however, thought differently. The option comprising Math (M), Biology (B), Physics (P) and Chemistry (C) was removed. In its place came two exclusive options: MPC with Computer Science or Statistics; and PC with Botany and Zoology. Since this narrowed down options for further studies, the old system was restored the very next year. Similarly, for the same reason, many students may opt for the old system now also.


Availability of choices: Will the choice for the old system be made available freely? Not all higher secondary schools will be sufficiently equipped to accommodate all the four-subject combinations, along with the three-subject groups, which may be mandatory. The number and size of class rooms and other infrastructure facilities may have to be enhanced.

More divides: Already there is a divide between State Board and CBSE students. Now, within the State Board, a division based on the number of optional subjects may come up.

Not in consonance with NEP: One of the aims of the National Education Policy is to facilitate interdisciplinary studies with freedom to choose subjects (choice-based credit system) and even for migration between colleges and universities, whereas the proposed three-optional subject system rigidly compartmentalises the study programmes.


No thrusting of groups: It is possible that because of their ‘reduced prospects’, students may not opt for the three-subject groups. This may lead to thrusting of groups onto such students, which should not happen.

Pass criteria: The GO states that ‘for promotion, the candidates should pass in all the subjects’ in both systems. This means that those who have chosen the four-subject system but failed in one subject will not be promoted. Why not they be considered to have ‘passed’ in the three-subject system (if they are willing)? This will be in keeping with the government’s aim to ‘reduce the mental stress of the students, alleviate their fear of higher education and improve their employment prospects, as stated in the preamble to the GO.

Encourage the four-subject system: Many areas of economics, commerce and business management require a strong foundation in mathematics. The exclusive science streams of physical sciences (physics and chemistry) and natural sciences (botany and zoology) also borrow heavily from mathematics, which includes statistics. Hence, a prospective achiever in any of these areas must choose a suitable four-subject option, which includes mathematics.

Academicians and educational administrators should, therefore, encourage students to choose the four-subject system.

The writer is a former professor and director of Entrance exams and admission Anna University, Chennai

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 10:04:15 AM |

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