Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Need for Re-aligning “Subject Choice” at the Senior Secondary School level in India

Many educationists teaching in schools in India will have observed how students are never happy with the choice of subjects offered to them. While some subjects are appealing, other subjects are boring, so they never take them seriously! It becomes a challenge for the teacher of that "boring subject" to cut ice with the students and find ways to make the subject interesting! But then the question is, why force students to take up a subject which is "boring"? Why not give them something that they can be happy with? Many students of the Science Stream do not want to read literature, so why force them to study English? The three major streams provided by schools in India are mainly Science, Humanities and Commerce. Broadly viewed, a science student who takes up Biology with the exclusion of Physics is said to have taken the medical stream, while the student who doesn’t take Biology is said to have taken the Engineering stream. For students taking up Commerce, there is a choice in the matter of taking up Maths. The humanities stream can include Psychology, Sociology, Political Science, and History. Some subjects are shared by all the three streams taught in schools today, and these include, Computers, (Computer science for science stream students, and Informatics Practices for Commerce and Humanities Streams), Physical Education, Fine Arts and English. Students in many schools take up an additional sixth subject at the Grade Eleven level besides the minimum five. Two popular additional subjects for science stream students would be Economics, or Physical Education, the latter if they have not already taken it in the first five subjects. For Humanities and Commerce students, Physical Education is a popular choice because of its obvious merits as a scoring subject. Many schools however don’t take up the responsibility of teaching the additional sixth subject to students, which is a sad fact! When the option of filling Sanskrit as an additional subject was proposed in one of the schools I taught  in Delhi, the idea was shot down for the obvious reason that it was feared that the existing P.G.T. Sanskrit teacher would pave the way for  promotion of the T.G.T. Sanskrit teacher after he retired!
While the choice of subjects offered at the grade eleven and twelve levels has improved down the ages, the idea of taking up additional subjects has gained popularity too. The only compulsory subject for all streams is the one language subject, either Hindi, or English. The imposition of a compulsory language subject on the students of grade eleventh and twelfth however does not seem to be very fair on some students who don’t have an inclination for languages! A steady dilution of a rigour in the syllabus for languages has made it rather difficult for students to undertake their study seriously! Some students who have taken up the Science stream find the subject no challenging enough and they see no reason to study poetry or novels or even write reports, although these are essential for developing twenty-first century skills! No whether or not to teach a language at the eleventh and twelfth grade levels will have to be taken at the highest level if we have to preserve the relevance and dignity of teaching the English language to those who feel no need for it. When I asked some of my students why they were not very inclined towards the subject, they replied that they did not think English was required for admission to the Engineering or the medical course, a misnomer which no doubt has resulted from popular social beliefs and misinformation. One argument in favour of removing the language paper at the twelfth board level could be that since the students have already undergone a rigorous language course till class tenth, they can manage without a further two years of language and literature classes! A second argument put forth by some students is that if Maths is not a compulsory subject at the grade eleventh and twelfth levels, then why should they have to study English? Or, perhaps another option would be to introduce a third stream stream besides the Elective and Core, a stream that is based more on the teaching of formal grammar and linguistics than the teaching of literature?
It is high time that the curriculum framers thought about widening the scope and range of subjects offered at the  senior school level, breaking  up the rather rigid mindset of a Science student regarding not taking up a subject from the Humanities bastion! Should it be wrong, therefore, for a student to take up Physics, Sociology, Fashion Designing, Chemistry, and Economics with Maths as a sixth subject? The responsibility of introducing the option of different subjects and exploring the possibility of removing language as a compulsory subject lies with the Central Board of Secondary Education. While it is true that most of the subject combinations are too limited and they require the students to take up formal degree course at the college level, the harsh fact remains that most of these subject combinations do not equip students for a profession right after passing out of school! A student with fluency in English might get a job at a call center, but those who don’t have such a skill would have to go for further training or even a three to four year formal degree course!Providing the student a wider choice of subjects would have its benefits which include better academic performance, better self-esteem, and even better job satisfaction resulting from the ability to choose a calling of one's interest and ability!
The introduction of vocational subjects at the grade eleven and grade twelve levels should be prioritized. With the C.B.S.E. introducing various vocational subjects at the grade eleventh and twelfth levels, it seems as if the central board of Education has indeed thought seriously about introducing these vocational subjects at the senior secondary level! Some of the vocational subjects that have found their way into the grade eleven and twelve levels are Food Technology and Fashion Technology. The need of the day is to identify and develop many more vocational subjects which might equip students better for a professional life after school. Subjects such as Auto mechanics, Carpentry or Wood Work, Agriculture, might be some good options. Just introducing such vocational subjects into mainstream instruction might however not be enough-rather it needs to be backed up by adequate research, explorations of better job options, and educating students and their parents through counseling sessions. The option of mid-term, linear and lateral exit or entry options for different subjects should also be explored.
A serious re-alignment and better choice of subjects will help increase a sense for dignity of labour, and respect for different subjects. The habit of pure science students labeling humanities students as weaker in intelligence will go, and students will no longer be labelled as, “Scientists” or “Philosophers” in a rather derogatory sense. All this will have to be done if we are to remind our students to respect each other and those who belong to other subject groups. The true mark of a good education is to be found in its students. A good education will encourage its students to have respect for one another, respect for the environment, and a realization of a sense of dignity of labour, so much so that a student of a particular stream who has chances of being an engineer doesn’t look down at the man repairing his father’s car!

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