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Vol. XXVII No. 17, December 16-31, 2017

Disappointing syllabus for Social Sciences


The framing of the new High School syllabus by the State Council of Educational and Research Training has been a herculean effort, involving many teachers, educationists, members of academic institutions and bureaucrats for over six months. There was a sense of excitement for all the people connected with the educational scenario, hoping for new perspectives in the curriculum, particularly in the field of humanities. Unfortunately, the new syllabus has fallen far short of expectations – at least in the Social Sciences.

The syllabus for Social Sciences is staggering in terms of content (as it always has been), both for the students and the teachers. There has been no change in the new syllabus. It is just flat wines in old bottles. The content is so vast that students will develop a distaste for the Social Sciences – which compresses History, Geography, Economics and Civics into one general subject. There is a stress on information rather than knowledge. Teachers are still going to struggle to complete the entire syllabus within a very short time span, made shorter with all other extracurricular activities, unexpected holidays and examination weeks.

In the 1960’s and 70’s there was a systematic study of History and Geography. Economics and Civics were not included till the Higher Secondary level. Teaching and learning was a more enjoyable process, and concepts could be understood and applied. In the learning objectives for these subjects, political overtones, prejudices based on caste and gender are given. It is better to avoid exposing children at this level to negative aspects. It would be interesting for children to learn Civics through practicals. The school can be used as the government and its different functions can be fitted into judiciary, legislation etc. The text books need to be written with these aspects in mind. All these subjects – ‘the Humanities’ as it were – are now clubbed under the subject ‘Social Science’ – an obvious misnomer (a misnomer of the worst kind) !

The idea was to integrate the subjects so that the students’ load could be reduced. But the reality is that there is no integration – the subjects are still taught systematically and separately under the heading of Social Sciences. The only thing which is integrated is the text book.

For integration, the perspective has to change. It should not be a systematic approach but a holistic approach from the view point of the ecosystem, landscapes, natural cycles and heritage, at the same time imparting the technicalities and special language of the subjects. This is a must if the students have to be prepared for the change which is taking place in the world and which will accelerate in the next decades. Science and Maths will take care of the technological changes, but what about the human perspectives? Students will have to learn to live with the others and with humanity in harmony. This gap between the Sciences and the Humanities is what has led to the present disconnect in society.

Analysing the new syllabus at the different levels, we find that at the primary level a praiseworthy effort to integrate has been made at Class 4 using the concept of the Tamil ‘Aiyn Thinai’ – the ecosystems. The historical perspective also should be included in this. This same concept has been extended to Class 5 also, but it has to be more clearly defined, to fit these landscapes within the physical framework of India. The various agricultural practices in these landscapes should be inclusive, not dealt with as a separate topic. Similarly, with the coastal landscapes, the importance of the ocean should be stressed. When dealing with that particular landscape, Class Three should include study of the particular district as well as Tamil Nadu. The principle is from the “Known to Unknown”. Local study, as area study, is very important at this level.

It is at the middle school level that there is no clarity. We don’t know whether the syllabus is linear or concentric. There is no connect between the History and Geography and Economic content. Ideas put forth in one are repeated in the other (e.g. the occupations). The History syllabus is daunting, as it is in chronological order and also descriptive of administration, social and economic life etc. Many of the older systems are given undue importance (they are obsolete, as in the case of agricultural systems, where the study of the present state of agriculture in India is necessary, the old ryotwari system is to be taught). Sometime the content is not specific – like just mentioning the word ‘hazards’? What hazards?

The secondary level syllabus is the most overloaded, going back to the systematic study of all three subjects. There is a sense of deja vu. The subject matter deserves 100 marks each, instead of the 25 allotted. It is at this level that there is more of a strain on the teacher and the taught, as students face the first public examination.

What we wonder were the objectives for framing the new syllabus? Was the objective only to bring the State Board syllabus on par with the Central Board, so that competitive examinations like the I.A.S. and NEET could be more successfully attempted? Could not the objective have been broader, drafting a syllabus aimed at equipping students to face a rapidly changing world. If critical thinking is developed through the syllabus, children will automatically take NEET or any other competitive examination with self-confidence. The present syllabus will function as is it has been functioning so far, stressing rote learning, something like motion continuing till inertia takes over.

A great deal will depend on the development of content, the kind of text books made available, to suit the level of understanding of the students, and the skill and capability of the teachers.

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