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Relevant, flexible and meaningful syllabi

Dilip Thakore interviewed Gerry Arathoon, chief executive and secretary of the Delhi-based Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE), which has 2,190 affiliated schools countrywide, by email and telephone. Excerpts:

What is your reaction to students of CISCE-affiliated schools being ranked #1 in four of the five subjects in which a national representative sample of 277,416 students were tested?

It’s very satisfying to learn that class X students of CISCE schools have outperformed their counterparts in CBSE and the state boards in the first-ever standardised countrywide test in four out of five subjects. I congratulate all CISCE-affiliated schools. The results of the survey are very encouraging and reinforce our board’s deep commitment to continuously strive for academic excellence.

It is commonly believed the CISCE syllabus /curriculum is better for English and the humanities, whereas CBSE is stronger for science and mathematics. What’s your comment?

Students from CISCE-affiliated scho-ols are readily distinguishable by their holistic grounding and strong English language communication skills, which gives them an edge in the newly emergent global economy whose functional language is English. English is the core element and medium of instruction and communication in all CISCE-affiliated schools, and forms an integral part of the curriculum at all levels.

It’s a common misconception that the CBSE syllabus is stronger for science and mathematics. This is not true because both CISCE and CBSE follow the same Common Core Curriculum prescribed by COBSE (Council of Boards of School Education) for science and mathematics. Therefore, the syllabi prescribed by the council in science and mathematics are the same as prescribed by CBSE. However, CBSE introduces students to the study of components of science (physics, chemistry and biology) in classes XI and XII, whereas CISCE’s ICSE syllabus introduces students of affiliated schools to the study of physics, chemistry and biology in classes IX and X to provide a strong foundation for students opting for the science stream in classes XI and XII.

To what extent do you believe that CISCE class X (ICSE) and class XII school-leavers are on a par with their counterparts in China and Japan and Western countries such as the UK and USA?

Students from council-affiliated schools routinely secure admission into the most prestigious universities and colleges abroad including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale, Stanford, Duke and Columbia universities, University of California and National University of Singapore, among others.

Most top-ranked college and university faculty in India complain that school-leaving students are under-prepared for higher education. What’s your comment?

Traditional rote learning pedagogies have blocked real, conceptual learning for too long. In CISCE-affiliated schools, we have been aware of this for a long time and have adopted contemporary and comprehensive pedagogies which stimulate deep conceptual learning and cognitive development. Therefore, our students are better prepared for higher education.

In particular, they complain that school-leavers lack hands-on and life skills. What importance does the CISCE syllabus give to vocational and life skills education?

CISCE syllabi/curriculums are designed to enable holistic development of students. In addition to covering course content, the curriculum also emphasises development of essential life skills such as critical thinking and analytical skills, team work, communication, public speaking, time management etc. Moreover, experiential project work is an essential component of all subjects at the ICSE (class X) and ISC (class XII) levels. In addition, all students are required to compulsorily study one skill-based subject which is given weightage of 50 percent in project work.

CISCE also conducts a separate examination known as Certificate of Vocational Education (CVE). Students can opt for the two-year CVE programme after completion of the class X ICSE examination or equivalent. This course prepares students for specific vocations.

What are the future plans of CISCE to improve Indian school education?

It’s well-known that a strong foundation in early childhood education plays a vital role in enabling life-long learning. Therefore, CISCE has undertaken a major exercise to design and develop a broad-based curriculum for pre-primary to class VIII which conforms to global standards of academic excellence and will enable students to be well-prepared to derive full advantage of ICSE and ISC syllabi.

Simultaneously, we are engaged in reviewing our ICSE (classes IX and X) and ISC (classes XI and XII) syllabi to ensure students are equipped with the requisite knowledge and skills required for competitive public examinations.

All these on-going initiatives are supplemented by regular teacher training workshops and orientation programmes to upgrade and update teachers of affiliated schools with the latest pedagogies and assessment and evaluation tools.

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