The Hindu Explains | Who draws up the Central Board of Secondary Education syllabus?

What is the reason for a 30% syllabus reduction this year? How will it impact learning?

July 19, 2020 12:02 am | Updated April 27, 2021 12:32 pm IST

The story so far: With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping students out of classrooms, forcing schools into various modes of distance education and reducing teaching time, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has decided to cut down its 2020-21 syllabus by 30% , for students from Classes 9-12.

Why does it matter?

Although the CBSE said core concepts will be retained, there has been concern regarding the kinds of topics that were removed from the syllabus. For the sciences and mathematics, some teachers are worried that topics removed from the syllabus are foundational in order to understand concepts that will be covered in the following academic year. The wider public concern has revolved around social sciences, history, political science and other humanities subjects. Opposition politicians and academicians alike are upset that topics like federalism, citizenship, nationalism, secularism, democracy, and diversity, as well as analysis of recent economic policies such as demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax have been dropped.

Also read | HRD Minister slams ‘uninformed commentary’ on CBSE’s syllabus reduction

Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, who is a former University Grants Commission member and professor of political science, helped author the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT)’s social and political science textbooks for Classes 9-12 which are used by CBSE schools.

“Unfortunately, the debate has become about political slogans rather than pedagogy. I have no objection to syllabus reduction so long as a rationale has been followed and there has clearly been an attempt to reduce the essentials. However, when you look at the entirety of the exercise across classes, you can see two clear themes among the deleted topics. Anything that has to do with diversity — whether social, political or regional — and anything to do with human rights and social struggles has been cut,” he said. “Also, consider timing. The chapter on citizenship deals with equality of citizenship and if it had been removed two years ago, it would not have been a big deal. But coming right after India’s first movement on citizenship, it takes on a different meaning, and feels suspicious.”

What was the rationale for the exercise?

“When we interacted with our schools and principals, there was a demand that with this much content in the provided time they can’t complete the syllabus,” said Joseph Emmanuel, Director of Academics at CBSE. “This year, no classes are happening in a regular manner. [The] CBSE has schools of all kinds — private schools for the affluent, as well as those for lower economic classes with minimum fees and facilities, and also the entire government school system in Delhi, Chandigarh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Even if online classes are happening in some of the elite private schools, what about government schools and children from less privileged backgrounds? They have a very big problem with connectivity, and their learning has been totally affected by the COVID pandemic. This is the reality.”

Also read | Syllabus reduction only a one-time measure: CBSE

He also noted that the CBSE has already been in the process of promoting competency-based education and experiential learning, instead of content-based learning dependent on memorising facts. “So in the COVID scenario, we thought why not experiment by integrating different topics for examination, so that the load on the children is minimised. So the strategy is through pedagogy. You will be integrating new topics and teachers will be giving more focus on concepts, rather than the content.”

How is it done and who heads it?

The NCERT is responsible for developing the National Curriculum Framework that all school systems across the country follow. It also prints textbooks based on its syllabus each year, which are used in all CBSE schools. The CBSE course committees, each with about six to seven members, comprises school teachers as well university professors. They meet every year to deliberate on changes and updates, and recommend a revised syllabus by February, before the new academic session begins. This year, they were asked to meet again in June to select topics for the 30% reduction. “Mainly we use the NCERT curriculum and syllabus, but there is about 10-20% variation done by every examination board,” said Dr. Emmanuel. “The course committees are an independent group. There was no outside input for the rationalisation process. Being an autonomous body, there is complete independence on academics.” The course committee suggestions were approved by CBSE’s Curriculum Committee and then its Governing Body, which includes representatives from the Union Ministry of Human Development and the Delhi State government, apart from school principals and university vice-chancellors.

Also read | Invisible loads, arbitrary deletions

“Topics suggested for rationalisation have already been covered. For example, concepts such as democracy or federalism have been interwoven from middle level onwards. The children are already familiar with these concepts and they can be taught through various alternative ways,” added Dr. Emmanuel. “For teaching democracy, there is no need for writing an exam. It can be discussed, there can be a classroom activity, these are topics which are part of daily life. So the idea is to teach these topics through alternative strategies, rather than focussing solely on exams.” He suggested that teachers would follow NCERT’s alternative academic calendar as well. Subjects such as GST and demonetisation may have been left out of Business Studies because they were covered in the Economics syllabus instead, he added.

How does this inform the teaching process?

Teachers say that given the time crunch exacerbated by COVID-19, it is highly unlikely that topics which will not be tested in the examination will be taught in the classroom. “Even in a regular year, many political science teachers omit subjects like federalism, democracy and citizenship from the political theory chapters in Class 11, in order to begin the Class 12 syllabus instead. They don’t see the point in teaching such ‘vague’ subjects and the COVID rationalisation only validates that kind of thinking. Anyway, each school has complete discretion for Class 11 since there is only an internal examination,” said a political science teacher from a reputed Delhi school, who did not wish to be named. She is part of a WhatsApp group of about 150 political science teachers across the city, and says most members of the group dismissed the controversy over the cuts. “Despite the ideological debates, this is the mainstream teaching reality,” she said.

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