Invisible loads, arbitrary deletions



The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has announced a reduction in the curriculum for the year 2020-2021 for Classes IX to XII. This is a measure they have adopted in view of the reduced number of class hours available this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CBSE circular says that the move has been finalised by the respective Course Committees with the approval of the Curriculum Committee and Governing Body of the Board.

The shedding of portions from the science syllabi is faulty from two perspectives — of basic sciences and of critical reasoning and thinking. The treatment of the physics curriculum is an example of the former while that of biology falls into the latter category.

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Basic topics removed

The proposed syllabus for Classes XI–XII physics presents quite a shock. While many basic topics such as Newton’s laws; motion along a straight line and basic concepts of heat have been removed, more advanced topics corresponding to these have been retained, for instance, the topic work, power and energy, which uses the concepts of Newton’s laws; motion in a plane, which expands on linear motion; and kinetic theory of gases, which builds on heat, have been retained.

This is only a sample. In physics, many fundamental and basic topics have been deleted whereas the concepts building on them have been retained. So, teachers will have to teach the deleted portions anyway, in order to build the next level of concepts. Sure enough, the CBSE circular further says, “The Heads of Schools and Teachers may ensure that the topics that have been reduced are also explained to the students to the extent required to connect different topics,” while emphasising that the “reduced syllabus will not be part of the topics for internal assessment and year-end board exams.”

The resultant syllabus is twice damaging — first, the deletion being only nominal adds an invisible burden on teachers, and second, that it is not going to be used to examine the students may just encourage rote learning. In basic science topics, it is much better to retain the fundamentals and, if need be, remove the higher application levels. On the contrary, the steps taken by the CBSE are in the opposite direction.

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Tragic and ironic

At the other end of the spectrum is biology. In the biology syllabus, higher-level topics such as ecology, environmental science and evolution have been arbitrarily removed. It is not just that topics like these connect the student to real-life situations, it is ironic that such a deletion should happen at the time of the pandemic.

The point has been noted by the group, Indian Society of Evolutionary Biologists (ISEB), which has released a note addressing these deletions. According to the observations of ISEB, “This pandemic has tragically highlighted the consequences of our neglect of evolution and ecology in school and higher education in India. Understanding practically every aspect of a zoonotic pandemic requires a thorough grounding in diverse areas of ecology and evolution, including species interactions, population dynamics, coevolutionary dynamics, evolution of host range expansions, and the transmission dynamics of pathogens. A direct consequence of our neglect of ecology and evolution is the relative paucity of epidemiologists in India.”

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The group further observes that the removal of most of evolution and ecology, including systematics and the diversity of life, from the Class X-XII syllabus is not only dangerously tragic, but ironic as well.

A science curriculum is a holistic entity. The truncations and deletions suggested by the CBSE in the Class XI-XII syllabus violate the cohesiveness and holistic nature of the planned curriculum. It would be far better to allow the students a gap year to pursue their own interests. The alternative, of course, would be to take into account the voices of all stakeholders in the area of education and do a careful job of trimming the syllabus.

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2020 8:01:46 PM |

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