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Experts Say CBSE's Move to Slash Syllabus Places More Emphasis on Exams, Curbs Students' Right to Learn Effectively

File photo of the CBSE headquarters in New Delhi.

File photo of the CBSE headquarters in New Delhi.

Going by the content removed, which includes topics like citizenship, secularism, nationalism, understanding Partition, federalism and social movements, “it is clear that it is a completely ad-hoc and also politically motivated exercise”, said an expert.

The Central Board of Secondary Education's (CBSE) decision to drop several chapters amounting to 30% of the syllabus for the class of 2020-21 due to the coronavirus pandemic has been characterised as mechanistic, undermining the relation between curriculum, syllabus and textbooks and replacing exams with the teaching-learning experience.

The "deleted" subjects are not only about social movement, citizenship, secularism, understanding Partition and nationalism, but in this exercise to rationalise the syllabus, the CBSE has removed the intuitive concept of force, inertia, Newton’s first law of motion; momentum and Newton’s second law of motion; impulse; Newton’s third law of motion.

Along with other chapters on Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, acceleration due to gravity, fundamental mode waves and harmonics, and the Doppler Effect were also struck off the syllabus.

The rationalisation exercise has curbed the rights of students to read, learn and grasp by placing examination first and the process of teaching-learning second, said experts who spoke to News18. They observed that what is removed helps in understanding what is retained. Confounded by the decision to do away with 30% of the syllabus, they asked, “How do you decide what is it the CBSE began with, 30% of what was deleted?”

HOW DID CBSE QUANTIFY THE PROPORTION?

The decision to cut 30% of the CBSE syllabus or to rationalise it was done without any academic deliberation and is therefore unacceptable, said Professor Anita Rampal, former dean, Faculty of Education, Delhi University.

Keeping the unprecedented situation of the pandemic in mind, the CBSE can certainly decide to have some deletions or postponement, but this has to be done with a deep understanding of the relation between the curriculum, syllabus and textbooks, said Rampal.

"The first question that one needs to answer is how do you decide what is it they began with of which 30% was deleted? What’s considered as the quantum to be sliced -- the number of topics in the syllabus, the chapters or the pages of the textbook, that is not clear. How did you quantify that number?” Rampal asked.

A former member of National Focus Group that authored a paper 'Curriculum, Syllabus and Textbooks', Rampal said this exercise of rationalising the syllabus has to be done with due deliberation. “Keeping in mind that concepts develop over time, students construct their understanding by making connections between new ideas and their own experiences,” she said.

How is the syllabi usually planned? “Some concepts are more abstract, needing greater collective engagement between peers and over more time, even progressively across the years, for more holistic development,” she answered.

And in our current situation, she said there are sound ways of planning the syllabus. “Even to reduce it for any contingency, we must have an understanding of how the syllabus has been structured and how learning of those concepts and experiences happens in diverse contexts of students' lives,” she added.

In the Position Paper authored by several other academicians for normal times, the “Principles of content selection and organisation” emphasised that selection and organisation of curricular knowledge should be considered from at least four different perspectives,

“Aims of education, epistemological perspective, child’s learning and mental developmental, and the child’s context,” she said.

REPLACING TEACHING-LEARNING WITH EXAMS

Experts are of the opinion that learning should not be curbed and exams must be de-linked with teaching and learning experience.

Former NCERT director Krishna Kumar said, “The way the chapters have been deleted show a mechanistic way of looking at children’s learning. It has been left to the children to learn whatever they can in this time and with whatever means they can. When exams come you can say we will focus on following topics only.”

With priority of exams dominating the government view, Kumar said, “Exams are just eight months away, but it should not take away the right of the student to read, grasp and understand something well. That doesn’t make any sense.”

There are deletions across the board – “Concept removed is essential to understanding the concept retained. This approach of mixing exams with teaching is problematic,” he said. "The CBSE is using exams as a basis for saying what should not be taught. In reducing the load, you remove the social movement but retain the outcome of history.”

The decision has not impressed educationists with long experience in the field as it doesn’t have a holistic view and keeps learning on the side.

In the past, in studies like the position paper on Curriculum, Syllabus and Textbooks, the experts had outlined "the learning experience itself must be evaluated, and not only its outcomes."

"Learners are happy to comment on the totality of their experience, and this information can be used to modify the learning system as a whole. The learner must be able to assess her learning experiences, individually and as a part of a group,” the paper had said.

30 PERCENT QUANTIFY POLITICAL MOTIVATIONS?

Rampal said the exercise is a populist statement saying that the burden is reduced. “The exercise is a populist statement to say that the burden is reduced. Well, to present an understanding of the above issues as a 'burden' more than makes clear the questionable objective of the government,” she said.

Going by the content removed – which includes topics like Citizenship, Secularism, Nationalism, Understanding Partition, Federalism, Social Movements, “it is clear that it is a completely ad-hoc and also politically motivated exercise,” she said.

“The chapters most crucial in building students’ understanding of the constitution, democratic rights, the environment, gender, caste, among other aspects of social justice, show that what is considered politically inconvenient is out,” she said, adding that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was not above these motivations either when it decided to reduce the syllabus. For her this episode is quite reminiscent of what the AAP government did while reducing the syllabus in 2015 by 25%.

Rampal was referring to the removal of Jan Sangharsh Va Andolan, which was widely reported in the media, saying, "After reading this lesson students feel that agitation, anarchy and going against the government are the only means of securing social justice. This is not true in a democracy. Hence, it may be deleted." The government had also removed several other chapters like Federalism, Participation in Governance from class X.

“The government had then removed the content they thought was inconvenient, for instance topics on people's movements, with a justification that it will harm students. Academics had then wondered what this said about the party's own history,” she said.