On 2nd June 2018, the Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar announced that the NCERT syllabus will be reduced to half from the 2019-2020 academic year. The minister added that the school syllabus is more than that of a few B.A. and B.Com. courses and has become a burden on students, making it impossible for them to devote time towards co-curricular activities which are important for their holistic development. According to the Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, syllabus completion, unfortunately, has become the prime goal of school education and the reduction of the syllabus is therefore aimed at quality education with full freedom for developing cognitive skills and not ‘quantity education’.
The decision has come into place with other important educational reforms currently under consideration, such as the return of examinations for grades 5 and 8 and detentions in classrooms. While the government claims to have taken this decision based on one lakh suggestions taken from parents, teachers and academic experts, a lot of educators are still not sure whether this is the best way to ensure quality education.
This decision has sparked many debates among experts across the country. The former CBSE chairman Ashok Ganguly believes that almost 40% of the syllabus is obsolete and thus, doing away with it is well-justified.On the other hand, Prof. Janaki Rajan from the Department of Teacher Training in Jamia Millia Islamia asserts that syllabus reviews should not be done arbitrarily, and must be based on academic reports. Some other educators fear that the standards of students in terms of academic prowess in the coming years will decrease if the syllabus is cut down so much.
The decision has also faced a lot of criticism from parents of the 2018–19 examinees as these aspirants have to prepare the entire year’s syllabus as opposed to the previous year when the board exams included only the last term’s syllabus. The government has been criticised for being indecisive and experimental and is being accused of abruptly shifting the parameters of evaluation, instead of bringing about changes marked by a gradual evolution of the entire teaching-learning process. The syllabus changes have been fairly irregular in terms of content and intervals; sometimes, it happens after quite a few years and sometimes in successive years.
According to the UNESCO, the development process for a quality curriculum should include proper planning and systematic organisation, acknowledgement of stakeholder interests, be led by academic experts, evolve with the changing necessities of the world and be sustainable. The quality curriculum values all kinds of learners and comprises high-quality, progressive content. It is well-structured and based on the principles of child-friendly learning.
But much of the school education in our country is based on rote learning, with students studying only with a motive to score marks in exams. There are only a few institutions with good technology infrastructure and even fewer that stress on hands-on and skill-based learning. Most teachers lack the training to implement innovative pedagogies for classroom teaching. Assessments have no provisions to evaluate students based on their research abilities, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving abilities or any other 21st-century skill. Most of all, there is hardly any provision for personalised learning according to the needs of different kinds of learners; the curriculum follows the one-size-fits-all theory. In this scenario, the edtech industry has initiated changes through various technology-based products, but the education policy-makers need to shift their focus on these issues to bring nationwide changes.
Moreover, the development of the NCERT syllabus requires a critical reflection on the entire K–12 system, without which, it is quite possible that vital information for successive classes might get removed or some content might get unnecessarily repeated. According to Anuradha Joshi, Principal of Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, instead of removing concepts, the teaching can be made more child-friendly with the complexity of the concepts increasing in each successive grade. Instead of teaching the same content in grades 11–12 as in the first year of college, it can be simplified and better teaching methods can be employed to make learning interesting. Even within the same grade, there can be a general and an optional advanced paper for each subject, and the optional paper can be designed in a manner that it enables interested students to delve into complex concepts.
Furthermore, the move to cut down seemingly obsolete information might lead to students growing up without having basic knowledge. A few years back, it was suggested that the chapters concerning the Constitution of India should be removed from grade 8 social science syllabus since these were already included in detail in grade 12 syllabus. However, this change was not carried out because it would have led to Science and Commerce students growing up without this vital information as grade 12 social science is meant for only those students who opt for Arts in higher classes.
Another important topic to be taken into consideration is the syllabi of competitive exams, such as JEE Main and Advanced, NEET, UPSEE and WBJEE, which follow the NCERT syllabus closely. If the NCERT syllabus is reduced, then the syllabus for these exams also needs to be modified or the instructors should change the strategies for these exams, which is not easy for aspirants and teachers to cope with. This will also mean that the financially challenged students, who could prepare for these exams from the NCERT books, will now be incapacitated in their preparations for JEE or NEET as they will have to buy costlier books to align their learning with the syllabus of the exams.
Therefore, it is extremely important to consider these factors before restructuring the NCERT syllabus. Otherwise, it might become another random experiment which might not actually help students in the long run. The initiative has a great potential to change the K–12 education with its provision for a more holistic approach to learning and a more carefully structured curriculum will help India meet global standards in the field of education.