The most amazing thing has happened in Delhi. Something that I have been advocating for the past few years has actually seen the light of day. Delhi’s AAP government has cut syllabus upto Class VIII by 25%, with the promise of doing that for Classes IX-XII by next year!
Director, education, Padmini Singla explains that no part of the syllabus that is crucial to the children’s understanding of concepts has been removed. “They weren’t completing all the chapters in the book anyway. We’re just reducing them. The sections were selected by an internal committee which had members from the SCERT as well,” she says.
For generations, the weight of the textbook, the amount of time and energy spent on memorizing useless information, the burden of studying for its sake, stands diminished at one stroke.
It will increase the time children have to connect with subjects through fun, real life explorations, explorations through performing arts and generally time off to spend on play.
There are the critics though who lambast this decision as retrograde, and one which will further degrade the quality of education, particularly as the cumulative cut up to Class VIII will result in a severe dissonance when the student reaches advanced levels.
But this is a creative dissonance, one that shall force curriculum designers to think anew, give time for teachers to develop new thinking and teaching skills and students to focus on the absolutely necessary (something that they have perhaps anyways been doing by default through choices their teachers make on how much they actually cover through the year).
I think it is a welcome move, though I would push for a far greater reduction in the formal syllabus and a far greater increase in the informal syllabus.
But as with other initiatives, although the change should be effected expeditiously, I would recommend a few other things to reduce the ensuing chaos and support the longevity of this change.
First, I recommend that the State put forward its combined might to support the informal learning process. This means resources of physical and virtual kinds – from playgrounds to theatres, from digital explorations to collaborative sense making through networks.
Second, although teachers may have been already interpreting the syllabus in reduced terms for years, it is time to look at cuts that are uneven and strategic across the early school years, not by the fiat of a uniform 25%. By this I mean we should look at ways to prune directed instruction to the minimum possible levels with each subject following its own logic of progression over the years.
Third, we must push the Boards to follow suit, and then the universities and colleges (starting with our Teacher Education programmes themselves).
Fourth, the reduction must be accompanied by a proportionate (not equal, because in any case the syllabus was too vast to start with) increase in teacher training and community building initiatives.
Fifthly, this is also a good time to start innovating the curriculum. The more we realize the role of informal learning in the curriculum, the better it will get.
Sixthly, we have to leverage the possible shift in the loci of control from the teacher to the student, parent and community. Textbooks are the fulcrum of academic dialogue today. And the teacher is the sole arbiter of that fulcrum in the student’s learning lifecycle.
As we move towards more of informal learning, that fulcrum will become less important, teaching less a loci of control and more a shared experience. Perhaps sometime in the future, the textbook will solely act as a reference for teachers, while students shall mediate/interpret/construct/connect content and build their own learning journeys, collaboratively. To leverage that shift, we must shift towards a “maker” culture in some ways, with increasing responsibility of learning & personal growth on the student.
Without these accompanying initiatives, the fate of the CBSE CCE and the OTBA will surely be repeated. And in some years, perhaps the same or another minister will have the chance to exclaim surprise and happiness that students and parents want the cuts to be reversed!