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CBSE: The tool for propagating Delhi dominated discourse

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Few realize this, but the CBSE board is a major factor in homogenising our national discourse and giving it an excessively Delhi dominated slant which is starting to rattle a lot of citizens.

For a nation with 1.3 billion citizens, it is unfortunate that CBSE is practically, the only national board. There is CISCE as well, but it has barely 2300 schools compared to almost 20,000 affiliated to CBSE. Also, a lot of boards try to align their content with the CBSE syllabus, amplifying the CBSE content country wide. This board is becoming a tool which promotes the kind of shrill, high-strung reporting which is becoming the hallmark of Indian journalism which is straying deep into the territory of activism.

Over a million students wrote the CBSE Class 12 exam in 2016. That is the magnitude of audience it has.

1. The membership of the CBSE
Out of 35 members in the governing body, 26 are based in Delhi. Even among the remaining 9, most are in cities close to Delhi or North India.

Many are connected to other centralized academic bodies, based in Delhi itself. Given the presence of CBSE schools all across the country, such a governing body is unlikely to factor in state to state variations in curriculum, which are required for a diverse country like India. Only Delhi University academics are present in the list – no other major central or state university is represented.

2. Subject to whimsical instincts of ministers and babudom.
There is simmering resentment against the license-raj behavior of the CBSE which is now trying to almost nationalize the schools by having a say even in principal appointments.

Even the academic systems of the board are often based on the ill-conceived ideas of ministers and bureaucrats. Kapil Sibal experimented with untested ideas by replacing the board exam with the CCE. This has resulted in a spiral of grade inflation and deterioration of standards at the Grade 10 level. The board exam definitely needed reform but CCE was definitely not the answer. As things stand, most board exams are heavy on rote and memorization, but the problems themselves are trivial, formulaic and often verbatim from text books. There is also negligible focus on practical work or project work – those components are used as grade inflation tools. But the CCE addressed none of these issues and created a diluted system with extreme grade inflation. Over 11% of the students scored a full 10/10 GPA in their grade X examination in 2016.

Them comes the centralization of “value-education”. Basic morals, ethics, values, discipline, manners: These are extremely important but they should be left to the schools and the parents. There should not be any centralization in this space otherwise it will immediately create a channel for indoctrination or social engineering and will make textbooks out of government propaganda. Compulsory inclusion of value-ed questions in Economics, Physics, Mathematics etc. is unwarranted. For now, let’s create a better society by focusing on academic excellence to improve our economic conditions to pull hundreds of millions of folk out of poverty. Higher order objectives or fads can be adopted once we evolve further. The frequent ruckus in the academic corridors of colleges in Delhi and Kolkata should be a stark reminder of the dangers of going overboard with contestable topics in value education, which will invariably see politicisation and indoctrination.

3. Pushing a single syllabus top-down onto the entire country. Using Social Studies for Social Engineering.
Ramchandra Guha has a chapter on the History of Cricket in the Class 9 NCERT Text book while the Class 9 and 10 History books have very sparse coverage of Southern India. The economics section of the social science syllabus is more a listing of specific government schemes to combat poverty and hunger with very little reference to the general principles and works of great economists. There is too much content about specific cases of forest societies, agricultural societies, environmentalism and farmers.

The history is dominated by an excessive focus on political science. There is an overdose of discussion around swadeshi and handicraft, khadi, diversity, environmental destruction. All this is achieved at the cost of introducing impressionable minds to a least common denominator covering objectively verifiable topics in History, Geography and Economics. There is a large amount of content about consumer rights, consumer exploitation. The History section in particular is almost entirely political science. The CBSE and NCERT Social Science syllabus should is becoming a social engineering tool.

Similarly, in languages, there is a rather limited selection of books and there isn’t much choice.

The CISCE model is a better route, at least for languages. They prescribe a list of 4-5 text books from which schools and teachers can select any two or three. Question papers are designed such that students who studied entirely different books can attempt the questions based on what they studied. Similarly, in History, there are multiple reading selections from which students and schools may make a pick of their choice.  This kind of a model is necessary for a national board to follow, so that it does not force a single narrative onto the entire country. Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Nehru, Dadabai Naoroji: many different personalities are present in this list of suggested assignments at the Class 10 level.



CISCE’s open model also does have serious issues. For a long time they did not have any kind of prescribed syllabus till class 8. The absence of standardised syllabus and texts led to a situation where education was being run by publishers trying to market fancy books with glossy paper and often inaccurate or biased content. This however, is perhaps preferable to CBSE’s push down of an excessively uniform curriculum. Some CBSE schools like the well known Heritage School in Gurgaon do make an effort to bypass this, by prescribing their own books and projects.

Recently, the ICSE has come up with recommended guidelines for the course structure till Class 8. One hopes to see better books.

4. Why does CBSE have one exam system for Delhi and another for “non-Delhi” when the syllabus and system is the same?
In recent years they have also been caught awarding Delhi students scores more liberally than others. This was perhaps done to give Delhi students a leg up in getting them into Delhi University. CBSE inflates scores for the entire country, but recently it was caught inflating Delhi scores far more than the rest of the country. Similarly, the first phase of the JEE Main (Screening) goes well past a least common denominator in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics. It is based on CBSE/NCERT syllabus. The IIT JEE (Advanced) on the other hand, does not include several of those topics, despite the exam itself being far more rigorous.

We need a serious rethink of our current board regime. We need multiple boards to experiment with different ideas, systems and narratives. As things stand, the excessive dominance of the CBSE in the Indian education space, is almost completely uncontested. Young minds should not be shaped by an organization trying to mould them in a specific way.

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