Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter. — John Keats
We have heard some sweet melodies from Tamil Nadu’s School Education Minister K.A.Sengottaiyan, who recently announced the abolition of the ranking system, introduction of Board examinations for Class XI students and revision of the school syllabus. These announcements were hailed by the media and certain sections of the academia as major education reforms. Are they really major reforms?
In the article ‘Do laurels always work?’ published by The Hindu Edge dated March 25, 2017, I argued against ranking students based on their marks in examinations and rewarding them for their academic achievements. I do welcome the government’s decision mainly for the reasons stated below. Not all top rankers are smart students with good subject knowledge and adequate skills, and not all gifted students always secure top ranks. So, ranking students based on their marks is meaningless. The ranking system helps only unscrupulous edupreneurs who run educational institutions with a narrow vision. With the sole aim of producing results and securing ranks, and thus making more money and increasing their revenue, many private schools in Tamil Nadu pressurise students turn them into marks-producing machines. The ranking system has had a negative impact on students by making a majority of them think that they are inferior to those who have scored better marks. It has been proved that such an education system has failed to produce students who will be able to think critically and face challenges confidently.
A positive step
Looking at the government’s decision critically, one can say that it abolished the ranking system just because it did not want to face further embarrassment and negative criticism that the top rankers are not able to crack NEET and IIT-JEE and other competitive exams, and the education system in Tamil Nadu is not good. Whatever be the intent of the government, the decision is a positive step and a slap on the face of those unscrupulous edupreneurs who defined education in their own way. The government should warn school authorities against displaying students’ marks publicly and publishing adverts that give details of ranks.
Is the introduction of Board examinations for Class XI students really a reform? The answer to the question should be based on the current scenario. For years, many private schools and government-aided schools did not teach Class XI subjects properly and taught Class XII subjects for two years. As a result, students studying in such schools were denied the opportunity to have a firm grounding in the fundamentals. The school education department miserably failed to take action against such schools which focused only on producing results and securing ranks. It is believed that the introduction of Board exams will make school authorities do justice to students by teaching them Class XI subjects. This, in turn, will help students learn the basics properly.
Will this not overburden students? The burden and stress will definitely increase if the school education department fails to do its duty of monitoring and taking action against those who violate rules. Some serious measures should be taken. The education department should warn school authorities against conducting coaching classes on Sundays and public holidays. Schools should not be allowed to conduct coaching classes beyond school hours, or after 6 p.m. It is not good for fifteen-year-old students to be treated like machines that can be put to work 16-18 hours a day.
Syllabus revision is a much-needed reform for Tamil Nadu school education. It has been neglected for many years due to various political reasons. Currently, the education department seems to have a very narrow vision and the focus is on NEET and IIT-JEE. One wonders why everyone is obsessed with medicine and engineering when there are numerous career options. What is the percentage of students who can clear NEET and IIT-JEE? The syllabus should be upgraded but it need not be modeled on the CBSE syllabus. It could be even better than that. The need of the hour is to form a committee of experts from various disciplines and to take some concrete steps to review and revise the syllabus so that the students can take any competitive examination without shuttling between schools and coaching centres.
The education system in Tamil Nadu is badly in need of major reforms in many other areas. We would like to hear those unheard melodies that could be sweeter.
Schools have become commercial centres or shops which sell books, uniforms, shoes, socks, belts, stationery along with education. Why do they do so? A simple answer is that these commercial activities bring them money and more money. It is a bad system because the focus is shifted. Commerce takes the driver’s seat and education takes a back seat. Here is an example. Publishing companies sell books at an exorbitant rate and give considerable amount of money (up to 30-35%) to school authorities in the name of discount. The beneficiaries are school owners and the victims are students and their parents. As long as this practice of commercialisation is allowed to continue, efforts to improve the quality of education will not yield positive results.
Many schools have bid goodbye to teaching and embraced coaching. It is a fact that many schools invite training companies to conduct NEET and IIT-JEE coaching on their campuses. This is another money spinner. The training companies charge around Rs. 2 lakh for NEET / IIT-JEE coaching. The understanding is that companies get 60% of the fees and schools get 40%. Even students who are not interested in medicine and engineering are persuaded to join the courses run by the school. Schools create an impression among students that only medicine and engineering are the best career options. Schools kill students’ free thinking and nurture their herd mentality.
What ails the education system in the country is government’s control over it. Political interference in education will lead to disaster. What is needed is the autonomy of school and higher education.
The author is an academic, columnist and freelance writer. email@example.com