The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led Tamil Nadu government’s three-year old proposal (mooted in 2006 as one of its pre-election promises) to replace the state’s four (apart from CBSE and CISCE) school examination boards — the Tamil Nadu Secondary School Leaving Certificate Examination, Anglo Indian School Certificate Examination, Matriculation Schools, and Oriental School Leaving Certificate Examination — with a common ‘State Board for School Education’, and introduce a uniform syllabus, will become a reality from the next academic year beginning July 2010. Initially, a uniform syllabus will be introduced in classes I and VI in the next academic year and gradually come into force for all classes from the start of the academic year 2011-12.
Given the existence of schools affiliated with as many as six examination boards (including 200 primary-secondaries affiliated with CBSE and 52 with CISCE), admission into the state’s 669 arts and science colleges, 354 engineering and 17 medical colleges has always been a contentious issue with allegations of some boards setting ‘easy’ class X exam papers being freely traded. That’s why in 1978 the state government introduced a common class XII school leaving exam for students of schools affiliated with all four boards. The proposal of a common syllabus and school leaving exam for classes 1 to XII is an extension of the same logic.
In September 2006 the state government appointed a nine-member committee headed by Dr. S. Muthu-kumaran, former vice chancellor of Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli, to examine the possibility of a uniform syllabus in schools, which submitted its report on July 4, 2007. However there was stiff opposition from private matriculation and nursery schools to the Muthukumaran Committee’s recommendation that Tamil should be the medium of instruction in all schools. This forced the TN government to cold store the report.
Subsequently, the government appointed another committee headed by retired IAS officer and former state project director of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, M.P. Vijayakumar, to amend and improve the Muthukumaran Committee’s report and advise its implementation. The Vijayakumar Committee, which submitted its report on August 26 this year, advised the government to leave the choice of medium of instruction — English, Tamil or other languages — to school managements. However, it made it clear that Tamil should be taught as a compulsory language until class X.
Inevitably, the proposal of a common syllabus and single examination board has evoked mixed reactions from school principals and teachers given that the state has four different boards which follow different textbooks and exam systems. Currently there are 34,342 primary, 8,718 middle and 9,243 high and higher secondary schools affiliated with the Tamil Nadu State Board; 4,400 schools are affiliated with the Matriculation board; 41 schools affiliated with the AISC board and a few schools affiliated with the OSLC board. These schools follow different syllabuses up to high school (class X) and adopt the common state board syllabus for Plus Two. As indicated earlier, schools affiliated with the pan-India CBSE and CISCE are exempt from this government directive.
“There are no major differences in the syllabuses currently followed by the four examination boards, only their evaluation systems differ. It therefore makes sense to have a uniform syllabus and a common class X exam. The proposal should be given enough time to succeed,” says C.R. Vijayalakshmi, assistant headmistress of the government aided Children’s Garden School, Chennai.
However, Matriculation school managements, which tend to pride themselves on their superior quality syllabus and high teaching-learning standards, and have enjoyed full academic autonomy, are not in favour of a uniform syllabus and doubt its efficacy in maintaining standards. “The basic assumption of education is that no one size fits all. If the common syllabus is downgraded to suit one section of students, private schools will just take things easy. While quality conscious schools will continue to swim against the tide of mediocrity, others will be equated with state board schools and parents will find that there is no incentive for seeking admission into private schools,” says K.S. Natarajan, principal of the Saraswathi Vidyalaya Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai.
Quite clearly, instead of upgrading the state’s 52,303 government and aided schools, which lack teachers, infrast-ructure and basic facilities, the state government is intent on dumbing down private schools by imposing a common syllabus in the cause of equity in education. By definition a common syllabus will need to pull up the lowest common denominator of rural students and simultaneously push down private school students. It’s a move that could sabotage this southern littoral state’s much vaunted and envied school system.
Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)