A set of 15 recommendations is placed for improving the standard of education at the secondary level. The most important suggestion concerns slicing the number of subjects taught and examinations held on. Subjects like physical education, health science and sports, art and craft and career education will have to be dispensed with, according to the recommendation. The education minister agreed with the educationists to do away with those subjects but made no commitment about the timeframe. Also he insisted that those subjects are important and would be accommodated for imparting lesson in lower classes. Will not students from class VI to IX then have more subjects than they presently study?
Bringing down the number of subjects surely has its merit considering the needless burden some of those impose on students either in classroom or during public examinations. There are streams of knowledge children inherit or receive traditionally and from everyday life. Those are like 'seeing is believing' and therefore there is no need for their inclusion in a syllabus. Parents and elders are there to give practical training on many diverse practices and habits highly important to life.
If secondary students are relieved of the extra burden of unnecessary subjects, what about the learners of the higher secondary level? Science students have to sit for examinations carrying a total of 1,300 marks. This happened when the information, communication and technology subject was included. Clearly, there is need for more home works. The issue of optional subjects at the secondary and higher secondary levels can be made good use of in order to address the problem of excessive subjects at both levels. Let students interested in certain subjects opt for those and others take different subjects according to their choice.
In this connection, another vitally important matter comes to the fore. This is about the restructuring of the education system. Under the present system, students opt for different groups -arts, science and commerce but not social science -in class IX. Some science students may change groups in class XI but rarely a student from arts or commerce groups does so at this level. If this is the reality, the country perhaps need to take yet another giant leap on reframing the process for screening the highly talented students who will only be eligible for master and doctoral courses at the university level. The University Grants Commission has of late forwarded a recommendation to this effect.
Indeed, it is a highly crucial recommendation with the potential of streamlining education and putting talented and run-of-the-mill students in their proper perspectives. The fact that the country is producing master degree holders who have to do jobs with no relation to their subjects is a sheer waste. Also there is no point producing masters of science, arts or commerce who will have to be employed for clerical jobs. So the need is to select the meritorious and creative students for higher education and the average and below average learners should have a ceiling of graduation course at the maximum. Technical and vocational education should have a wider base with a sharp focus on the employment market. In advanced and developed countries, this screening is made at the ninth grade so that a large number of students do not have to unnecessarily compete for university admission.
The second most important recommendation is on the formation of a panel with educationists and writers, which will be responsible for making textbooks lucid, attractive and legible. Considering the quality of textbooks for students at the primary, secondary and higher secondary levels in general, this proves to be the most challenging job. It is not easy to write lucid textbooks that capture the attention of students with varying interests. In this context, the English version textbooks for classes IX, X, XI and XII are surely a disgrace. So poorly written with archaic sentences these books are that those are an insult to the language. It is bad English that students have to grapple with.
The recommendation for standardised tests or unified exam for all education boards likely to be held from 2019 is more a technical matter than anything substantial. It is important if only the question bank or 'item bank' takes a coordinated shape. But such a set of question also points to many a weakness in the system. Teachers who are unable to frame structured or creative questions will definitely benefit from such a bank but what about their capability for evaluation of examination papers?
This brings to the quality of teachers and the current practice of classroom teaching. Sure enough, most teachers running coaching centres on a commercial basis know their subjects. But they do not really teach a lesson well at school; rather they make students swallow answers to questions like pills. Students can reproduce the answer from their teachers' notes distributed in coaching centres but do not quite rely on their own appreciation of the subject to attempt an answer. Their indeed lies the mystery of achieving the highest grade by undeserving students who ultimately fail to pass the admission tests of the reputed universities.
Of the other recommendations, use of standardised score for public examinations, inclusion of extra-curricular activities surely merit consideration. A yearly reading day will not go far. Rather, it would be better to have provision for making effective arrangement for taking books home for reading from school library.
Above everything else, though, removing the systemic weakness and appointing qualified teachers along with bringing an end to commercial coaching will prove a deciding factor in improving standard of education at the secondary level.