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Futile syllabus loading malaise

EducationWorld November 2021 | Anniversary Essay

Krishna KumarPolitical masters of the education system never tire of inventing new bits they believe are worthy of being glued into the school routine. These bits are wrapped in politically correct labels, writes Krishna Kumar

The tendency to fragment the curriculum has become endemic to our system of education. New bits and slices keep getting added to school time-tables. However, most often, these new bits remain outside the mainstream curriculum. That mainstream consists of subjects for which exams are held and regular tests are administered by way of preparing children for exams.

Political masters of the system and the officials who run it never tire of finding or inventing new bits they believe are worthy of being glued into the school routine on a daily, weekly basis. These additions are usually wrapped in politically correct labels. The latest example of such labels is the deshbhakti curriculum introduced by the Delhi government.

How does one translate deshbhakti? Describing it as patriotism isn’t quite accurate. Deshprem or love of country would connote patriotism in normal times. Bhakti involves the type of devotion that’s synonymous with worship. That’s what the nation needs now. When our rivers are dying and the air is filled with toxic pollutants, it’s best to project the nation as an idol surrounded by young worshippers.

The idea also goes well beyond patriotism. We have transformed into a land of worshippers who make no distinctions, nor brook any criticism. These are hardcore worshippers of the State. One wonders if a daily period of less than an hour will be sufficient for such a grand aspiration. And in senior grades, it will have to be one period a week. At that stage, the nation will have to compete with more earthly demands like getting through NEET.

No special insight is required to discern that this new addition to the already crowded time-table of Delhi’s government schools fits in with the ethos of competitive nationalism. Children studying in government schools can be made to spare a few periods for the larger political good. Private schools need not bother. They maintained their privileged indifference to earlier add-ons like ‘happiness’, ‘mindfulness’, entrepreneurship, etc. Government schools have enough time to add periods for these necessary yearnings.

It is not as if private schools have no flair for add-ons. For many years now, several private schools have devoted a full period for ‘values education’. They believe the antibodies injected into the values period will robustly counter all the corruption and chicanery that surrounds them.

The tendency to introduce add-ons is rooted partly in perceptual lapse and a deeper malaise. Authorities don’t understand that values and happiness will result from good teaching of any subject. Literature taught well will impart humanistic values just as good science pedagogy will implant scientific temper. A separate period for critical thinking implies acknowledgement that science teaching in the school is of poor quality. And as for love for one’s country, how can a single period cultivate it if long years of learning history, geography and literature don’t?

The deeper malaise that encourages the tendency to add single-focus bits to the curriculum is rooted in established pedagogic practices. Conventional teaching tends to isolate subject content from any living experience. Teachers usually focus on helping children memorise. For these typical reasons, subject knowledge remains inert and inapplicable to real-life issues.

Thus even an efficiency-enhancing subject loses its potential. Take the example of computer education. It is taught in a vast number of schools in isolation from all other subjects. Little children are made to cram the definitions of mouse and keyboard. So, a lot of our students end up learning how computers work but can’t use one to get a deeper grasp of the subject. Much is made of the Internet as a library of knowledge, but hardly any attempt is made to teach children to distinguish between fake and authentic information.

The story of ‘educational technology’ (ET) is similar. It is a compulsory subject in teacher training courses and also very popular. If you visit the website of any major university and look at the faculty directory, you will notice a lot of them specialise in ET. They wax eloquent in their ET classes, but they don’t — and most of them can’t — use ET resources to teach compulsory papers on psychology or sociology of education. No wonder trainee teachers don’t have a clue how ET can be used for the teaching of, say, English or physics.

In its hurry to introduce so many add-ons, the Delhi government seems to have no time to wonder about the implicit message that allocating a separate period to ‘happiness’ sends. The message is that learning all the usual subjects doesn’t make children happy. The same applies to deshbhakti. Teaching it separately raises doubts about the social and political knowledge imparted by schools and their ethos.

Dr. Krishna Kumar is a former director of NCERT and NCTE and author of Smaller Citizens (2021))

Also read: CBSE syllabus reduced by 30% for classes 9 to 12 this year

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