by a Thinker, Sailor, Blogger, Irreverent Guy from Madras

One syllabus to unite them all

There is a right royal mess churning around in the schools of Tamil Nadu on Uniform School Syllabus - ‘samacheer kalvi’ (சமச்சீர் கல்வி) -implementation with the ladle in the hands of Supreme Court.

As blogged earlier, the present (newly elected) administration of the ADMK is against the syllabus prescribed by the former DMK regime, contending the proposed syllabus is substandard.  Now a 10 member panel is to study the proposed syllabus (lessons) and report to the Madras High Court. 

Even me, a resident of Chennai is confused at the mishmash that is the TN Education/Schooling scenario.
The students can study from Class 1 to Class 12 under any one of FOUR different streams with different syllabus, books, lessons and marking scheme.  [If we include the Central Board Schools, in effect, there are FIVE].  The four streams and the number of students who appeared in Class 10 common exams in Mar/Apr 2011 are:
  • the State Board Schools - ~857,956 boys and girls,
  • the Matriculation Schools - ~145,252 boys and girls,
  • the Oriental Schools and - ~1,561 boys and girls, and
  • the Anglo-Indian Schools- ~4,873 boys and girls;
for an aggregate of 1,009,642 boys and girls.  In contrast all of CBSE exam takers (All India) aggregate is 1,061,566 - though it has to be kept in mind that from 2011 the CBSE class X exams are optional.
Viewing the above statistics,
  • Isn’t it obvious that maintaining the last two boards for about 6,500 students an year is impractical and inefficient? 
  • Is it any wonder that any sane government would like to abolish (at least) those two boards (if not the three) and streamline the education system? 
Personally I think that whatever the Supreme Court decision, doing away with the OSLC and Anglo Indian syllabus is long overdue.

The problem between the state board schools and the matriculation schools are more complex.  The Matriculation proponents believe that the Matriculation stream is of better standard than the erstwhile State board syllabus.  A paragraph in this article of last year seems to suggest that even state board teachers admit it [].

Everyone seem to agree on one thing - that the Central Board of Secondary Education, New Delhi (CBSE) syllabus, standard, lessons and way of teaching is the best as of today.  If that is the case, the question arose in my mind ‘why not simply adopt or copy the CBSE syllabus at least in Mathematics, Science, Geography and English?’ 

The other 2 subjects are where the regional leaders usually have concerns -
  • robust teaching of the regional language which in our case is Tamil, and
  • History, where regional leaders want more prominence given to the regional, state history.
With above thoughts in mind, I decided to see for myself what exactly are the standards proposed in the TN textbooks versus the CBSE textbooks.  As the benchmark, I used the online NCERT textbooks for use in CBSE schools.  I compared them with the online TN textbooks of the Govt. of TN (GoTN) [* see Note below].

I neither have the time and patience nor resources to go through every page of every textbook for every Class and such work is best left to the formidable resources and ability of ‘expert panel’ constituted under the direction of Supreme Court.

I decided to check the syllabus and random lessons of Mathematics and Science text books of Class 6 and Class 7.
  • Why I chose Class 6? 
    • Because it (along with Class 1) is already under Uniform Syllabus (from 2010) and will continue to do so, as judged by the Supreme Court.
  • Why I chose Class 7? 
    • Because being the next highest class the regularity, standards, continuity and coherence of lessons between them (or any divergence) can be easily identified, even by a dummkopf like me.

And I found that the syllabus are similar, practically the same.  The variation in the lessons are that chapters follow a different progression in each syllabus.  Lesson 1 in an NCERT text book might find its equivalent in Lesson 4 of TN text book and so on.  Here take a look for yourself.

[Note:  It has taken me 3 days of thinking off and on and almost 4 hours of writing this post and beyond me this Friday night to extract and post the full syllabus comparison in pdf format - hence a screenshot for now - the extract of actual pdf documents will be posted over the weekend - if I find the time]

tn vs cbse maths syll

Of course it is my personal opinion based on a small, random sampling, but if the expert panel finds the same, the Matriculation Schools and the GoTN, I am afraid, might have no leg to stand on. 

That said here are a few points to ponder, by all educationists in India:
  • On Sunday, while solving the ‘first letter quiz’ in Dinamalar’s  weekly supplement - a boy who had just cleared his CBSE Class 12 came up, interested, started solving it.  The problem was he, a Tamil boy, couldn’t read the Tamil fluently.  I had to read out the clues and he solved them - no wonder since he scored 95% in Class 12 exams and was within top 500 at the IIT JEE.
    • It may be too far to expect students to identify a ‘Venpa’ (வெண்பா) from a ‘Paripatal’ (பரிபாடல்), but is it too much to expect them to read or compose a Tamil Haiku?
  • While digitizing documents after the PC crash at the internet Cafe, I saw some local boys of 4 to 6th standard under state board playing GTA on the PCs.  Now their English language skills are at ‘I go; You come or no come’ levels, but their game and PC handling skills were nothing less than that of the 10 year old PS3 owner next door.
    • Just goes to show that state board students are second to none and given an opportunity can perform as good or even better than their counterparts from other schooling streams.
  • The NCERT textbooks are under the most severe copyright restrictions I have encountered which is most puzzling.  I would have thought that the Human Resources Ministry and the present Minister Mr. Kabil Sibal would be of a mood to encourage the use of NCERT text books by all the educational boards in India.  To which case, the books should be made free for anyone to download print and distribute - with certain other compulsions - like quality, size of paper and price;  a total ban on any publishing and a monopoly on printed text books by NCERT is illogical and should be looked into as to whether a book-mafia or syndicate exists.
    • Imagine, a TN textbook with similar syllabus would be available in the market for Rs. 35/- or so, while the NCERT book would cost Rs. 135/- or so?
  • *Note - I downloaded the TN textbooks on Wednesday, but from Thursday, the textbook download links have been removed, probably because the expert panel is looking at them.
    • Understandable, except that the disappearance of Class 1 and Class 6 textbooks is mysterious and ham-handed.  Whatever the panel concludes and whatever the Madras High Court decides, the Class 1 and Class 6 syllabus and lesson are to continue as per the Supreme Court decision.  Why remove them too?
    • 8-/
  • While NCERT books are perhaps the way to go, blindly declaring them as Free/Open Documents and ordering boards to use them in their schools might not be the correct idea.
    • On a random read through, 2 imaginary characters named ‘Paheli’ and ‘BoonJo’ were instigators of ideas in the lessons.  I imagine the whole class would be in stitches every time a teacher or a student utters those names or a variation of it - in TN, Kerala and possibly Andhra Pradesh.  Local names like ‘Tamil Selvan’ and ‘Tamil Selvi’ and some other adaptations should be allowed.
  • Last but the most important point is that CBSE encourages free thinking - the major point which everyone makes is that under CBSE, students are encouraged to understand the subject and give answers in an exam in their own words - not parrot what is in the textbook.  This is precisely the point the Matriculation schools too make - that they encourage language and expression skills.  The major disadvantage or advantage as pointed out in state board schools is that the examiners expect a ‘textbook’ answer.
    • Understandable since the Teacher to Student ratio in the state board schools are pathetic and with more than 1 million exam papers, it would be impractical to expect an individually enumerated answer.  In comparison the CBSE evaluates roughly same amount of answer sheets - all India put together, with better teacher to student ratios.
In my personal opinion, we should have all students and exams in CBSE pattern, with free thinking and self expressing students.  But at state level it would be impossible.  OTOH, it would be grossly unfair to stifle the free thinking, self expressing students and force them into a curriculum of parroting what is in the textbooks.  Imagine if the US President is worried about India and TN’s capabilities, what would happen if we unleash 1 million free thinking, self expressing students a year, every year - President Obama may well start shaking in his boots.

So, there seems to be a need for a state board oriented, free thinking, self expressing aspirations - an 8.5 to 1.5 ratio - which also needs to be addressed.  Hence a stream where such thoughts are encouraged, weather we call it metric, decimal, binary or digital (pun intended) is essential.

As stated before, this is based on a random, simplistic study of the syllabus of the NCERT and TN Textbooks online.  The appointed panel, of whom the 2 TN appointed are giants in educational fields of long standing - of DAV and PSBB schools, for whom these points may be kindergarten stuff, may or may not agree with this post.

Perhaps beyond the point of this post and the empanelled members, this might be a good opportunity to unleash the potential of ‘Navodaya Schools’ in TN - perhaps the only state which still refuses to allow them.  And if Navodaya Schools are to be permitted, this Chief Minister is the only one who can do it - and in this year when she is the sweetheart of all TN.

Whatever, I am sure that this formidable CM would make the right decision.

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