Following heavy criticism from the media (especially EducationWorld) and the tragic suicide of 17-year-old Anitha, an aspiring medical student who topped the class XII state board exam but failed to clear NEET (National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test) for admission into medical colleges countrywide, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government led by chief minister E.K. Palaniswami released the draft of a new syllabus for 53,000 government and 10,934 private schools affiliated with the Tamil Nadu State Board of School Education (TNSBSE) in Chennai on November 20. The new syllabus has been revised by the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) after a time gap of 12 years for higher secondary (classes XI and XII) school and after seven years for classes I to X.
According to state school education secretary T. Udayachandran, the revised syllabus rectifies the deficiencies of the earlier class I-X samacheerkalvi (common curriculum) and the higher secondary TNSBSE syllabuses which were widely criticised for encouraging learning by rote at the cost of developing critical analytical skills required to write national entrance examinations such as IIT-JEE and NEET.
The new syllabus has been framed after a high-level committee concluded a comparative analysis of the syllabus of the TNSBSE with 20 other education boards within and outside the country. The gap analysis study found that there was no major difference in the curriculums of the TNSBSE, CBSE and other exam boards. The main difference was pinpointed to be in the evaluation pattern and quality of prescribed textbooks. Whereas CBSE textbooks have application-based questions at the end of each chapter, TNSBSE texts had only knowledge-based questions, according to the study.
A curriculum framework committee constituted by the state government and headed by former Anna University vice chancellor M. Anandakrishnan and comprising former Anna University vice chancellor E. Balaguruswamy and school education secretary T. Udayachandran, held public hearings in July in cities across the state to hear the views of over 2,000 experts, teachers and authors before drafting the new curriculum framework. The new curriculum/syllabus is expected to be rolled out in phases beginning with classes I, VI, IX and XI from the start of the academic year 2018-19.
Some of the major changes in the new syllabus include introduction of ICT (information and communication technology) as a separate subject and incorporating ICT in every subject from primary classes onward to facilitate technology-enabled learning. Vocational training in agriculture, textile technology, nursing, music, drawing and sewing have also been integrated into the curriculum. Major changes have been proposed in the textbooks and exams evaluation pattern with emphasis on application-oriented questions to test students’ critical thinking skills. Textbooks will also include a section on learning outcomes which have been defined for every class and assessment will be based on learning outcomes.
The long-overdue revision of the TNSBSE syllabus has been unanimously welcomed by students, teachers and parents. “The new syllabus has upgraded the content of maths, science and other subjects and proposed several changes in the mode of evaluation. However, teachers need to be adequately trained to deliver the new syllabus and set question papers that test students’ grasp of concepts, if the new syllabus has to show positive results. A guidebook will help teachers immensely,” says R. Visalakshi, president of the Tamil Nadu Matriculation Schools Association.
The state’s AIADMK government woke up to the urgent need to revise and upgrade the TNSBSE syllabus only after the Supreme Court mandated NEET as the sole entrance exam for admission into medical and dental colleges countrywide in 2017 and TNSBSE students performed dismally in the exam. Only 5.3 percent of the 26,693 aspirant medical students from TNSBSE-affiliated schools qualified for admission into the state’s own 22 government medical colleges in the academic year 2017-18 as against 30 percent of 3,429 applicant students from schools affiliated with CBSE and other exam boards. Moreover, according to educationists, nearly 50 percent of students from TNSBSE affiliated schools admitted into Tamil Nadu’s 523 private non-autonomous (out of a total of 550) engineering colleges affiliated with Anna University failed their first and second semester exams every year during the past five years due to their complete lack of conceptual skills.
Given that learning outcomes of TNSBSE students have plunged drastically in the past two decades, some educationists express doubts whether the new upgraded syllabus can be practically implemented in the near future. “The sudden shift from knowledge-based teaching/learning to higher order thinking skills (HOTS) pedagogy will pose quite a challenge. The current batch of class X students who have been trained to follow the samacheerkalvi curriculum for ten years will find it difficult to switch to the new syllabus format in the class XI public exam which has been made mandatory from 2017-18. Moreover, ambitious reforms like incorporating ICT in every subject may look great on paper but problems are likely to crop up in implementation, especially in government schools in rural areas,” says a senior educationist of a private school in Chennai.
Having drafted a syllabus that is focused on raising academic standards, the state government has to now ensure that the proposed syllabus/curriculum is implemented rigorously so that school education in Tamil Nadu regains its past glory and its students can ace national competitive examinations as they did in yester years.
Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)