Secularism, Federalism and Democracy excised from the CBSE Syllabus
The bitter truth though is that CBSE is not alone in its capitulation to the government. The University Grants Commission (UGC) which is responsible for higher education in the country is no better. Most Indian educational institutions have crumbled one by one against the might of a government that doggedly pursues its ideological agenda.
The pandemic has unfortunately become a convenient garb for the government to pursue its sinister agenda wherever and whenever it can. One does not know whether to laugh or cry over the recent decision of the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE)—as it so pompously states in its official statement—to “rationalize” the syllabi of classes 9-12, under the express directions of the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD).
The avowed purpose is to ease the workload of students and cover for the loss of “instructional hours” due to the closure of schools in the ongoing pandemic. The statement also contains a proviso that this reduction will be done to retain the “core concepts” of the discipline. Unfortunately, this bizarre attempt to rationalize it has turned out to be manifestly irrational, especially in the case of Political Science. But doesn’t Political Science deserve a special mention as it is also the subject that our Prime Minister holds dear to heart, and has earned a famous (Entire Political Science) degree in?
Let us for a moment assume that there is no ulterior motive, or any hidden agenda, in this decision. Even purely on the point of principle, deleting major chunks of the syllabus on the flimsy excuse that “instructional hours” were lost does not stand up to scrutiny. As far as Political Science is concerned the deleted portions include chapters—fully or partly—on Democracy, Citizenship, Federalism, Nationalism, Secularism, Religion and Caste, Regionalism, Local Governments, Gender, Environment, and India’s relations with her neighbours. The entire list of changes can be accessed from the CBSE website. A cursory look at these topics is enough to conclude that these topics and themes, that have been purposely deleted by the Board, are part of the “core concepts”—it will be tough to imagine a student studying Political Science at any level, desiring to have a meaningful understanding of the discipline, to skip studying the above themes.
Having removed these topics—which in my opinion form the kernel of Political Science—from the purview of internal assessment and examination, the Board has unwittingly erased all motivation on the part of students to study about them on their own. There were infinitely better ways of approaching this had the Board genuinely wished to help the students. Rather than simply deleting essential aspects of the course, CBSE could have easily relaxed marking norms or given more choices in the question paper.
It gives me no pleasure to say that CBSE in this sordid matter has acted not unlike the ostrich—a delusional creature which mistakenly believes that there will be no imminent danger should it bury its head in the sand. The Board in its boundless wisdom—or, shall I say, lack of—has taken a purely “transactional” view of education by resorting to deletions in the syllabus as its best response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems that CBSE treats education and syllabi like the ledger sheets of a company wherein it is possible to add and subtract to balance income and expenditure. This is what the most important Board responsible for managing secondary education in India has unwittingly done—is it not counting the loss of “instructional hours” to balance it by deleting chapters and themes from the syllabus?
It is evident that this mystifying decision to slash the syllabus is based on an utterly non-educational and non-pedagogical premise. Why shouldn’t we then assume that it has been done more to satisfy the political masters, or perhaps to cater to populist demands, rather than to address the real issues that millions of students are facing because of the closure of schools? Unfortunately, we live in a society where education is fallaciously believed to be mostly about exams and bloated marks, and not about knowledge or excellence. Understandably, people at large hold these views—as they are under the sway of a deeply entrenched regime of cut-throat competition, high cut-offs, and a rat-race for lucrative jobs. But what is totally beyond pale is why a professional, supposedly autonomous Board, that CBSE ought to be, is pandering to these misgivings?
Why should we not draw political meanings from the decision if one looks at the kind of themes that have been deleted from the Political Science syllabi? One only needs to put two and two together by glancing at the omitted themes to infer that CBSE is rooting for a vision of India which is at the very core of what the RSS stands for—a monolithic culture, top-to-bottom decision-making, a unitary structure of government and the merging of all diversity into one universal identity. The deleted themes from the syllabus present a cogent argument against such an imagination, and students who will not be able to study these themes will be all the poorer in their understanding of India’s political culture that is anchored firmly in the nest of diversity.
At all times, under all circumstances, the goal of CBSE should be to foster a culture of knowledge, to instil real curiosity amongst students, by carefully curating the syllabi and promoting best pedagogical practices in schools, so that we can become a nation of innovators, thinkers, and dreamers. In abdicating its principal responsibility, CBSE has become a despicable puppet—dancing to the whims and fancies of an HRD minister who wants to win brownie points with the Sangh Parivar by foisting its cultural universe upon hapless students. It is almost tragic to witness the theatrics related to this fiasco, and the less said the better about the HRD minister who has been prancing around Twitter, flaunting his achievement.
The bitter truth though is that CBSE is not alone in its capitulation to the government. The University Grants Commission (UGC) which is responsible for higher education in the country is no better. Most institutions in the arena of education have crumbled one by one against the might of a government that doggedly pursues its ideological agenda. So long as we are not able to restore the autonomy of critical institutions, education in India shall remain in shambles.