The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the government in more ways than one — be it the attendant economic crisis, mishandling of healthcare logistics or its wilful neglect of unorganised sector workers during lockdown — and now it is the opportunistic thought control experiment it has perpetrated on students appearing for secondary and higher secondary school leaving examinations on the pretext of reducing their syllabi in view of course load and loss of a school term that has drawn public ire.
Union human resource minister had promised that in the process of “rationalising the syllabus” core concepts would not be touched. Can he explain by what token were Newton’s Laws of Motion, Kepler’s law of planetary motion and the Doppler effect dropped from the Physics curriculum?
In Chemistry, the basic structure of the atom and nomenclature of carbon compounds — the latter forms the foundation for the study of organic chemistry — have been redacted.
In one sense, the reduction of syllabus for science students is no reduction at all. For, in omitting the missing chapters, they will be severely hamstrung while writing JEE, NEET and other competitive entrance examinations.
The loss is more significant for humanities students. The current batch will miss out on the basic concepts that undergird our Constitution — federalism, citizenship and secularism — as also a first-time exposure to local governance, new social movements in India and regional aspirations, which are key to understanding contemporary society and functioning as a good citizen.
From the point of view of academic importance alone, this loss may prove to be irreparable. Students coming from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds may never get a chance to bridge the information gap. So the question arises as to whether or not the government believes that this information, which seems incongruent with its own worldview and agenda, is redundant.
This, certainly, is no unprecedented conclusion. In its policies, measures and dealings with citizens, the ruling party and its parent organisation, the RSS, have quite consistently privileged obedience and hierarchy over critical thinking and individualism.
Political interference and intolerance for debate have left India’s leading universities beset with staff and resource crunches and converted some of these into grounds for pushing a fascist, communal agenda.
It is not surprising, therefore, that this culture of anti-intellectualism has now found its way into school education, characterised as it is otherwise by careless indifference of the establishment towards the end-goal of academics and the duty a society has towards its students.
The fact that the government is now embarrassed by its decision lends credence to this argument.
Less than 24 hours since announcing the controversial revision, the government is seen scrambling for a face-saver, in the way of a verbal volte-face on the de facto deletions.
Under pressure, the ministry has issued statements saying the scrapping was part of a “one-time move” meant to reduce students’ stress.
The topics have been covered in an “alternative academic calendar” of the NCERT even though no questions will be asked on them at the Board exams.
Not many are buying the “clarification”.