Winds Of Change

‘The old order changes, yielding place to new; and God fulfills Himself in many ways’.
As a national daily has rightly pointed out, the great churning process of our moribund education system has begun, thanks to several new steps being initiated by the HRD Ministry. Every day new ideas seem to be cropping up. But it is imperative to tread carefully if one has to sift the grain from the chaff in this stupendous task. Read more

Mr Kapil Sibal’s stance that children should not be allowed to attend pre-school if they are less than four years old is a laudable one. Formal schooling should begin at the age of six. At present even two years old are going to preschool, and many get traumatised with the competitive environment in the school. Cases of stammering, bed wetting and other stress symptoms are not uncommon in them. Recently the father of a three year old proudly claimed in a party that his daughter was topping her class. As if this were not enough, many parents are sending their kids for private tuitions, in order to prepare them for entrance tests in formal schools. Thus the formative years of a child’s life are becoming too burdensome instead of enjoyable.
The decision to have at least a uniform syllabus (if not a uniform board) throughout the country at the plus 2 level, makes a lot of sense. This will at least end the fight for supremacy amongst the various examining bodies. A single entrance examination for different specialised courses after class XII will also go a long way in mitigating the sufferings and trauma of students.

Yet all that glitters is not always gold. Certain methods look wonderful on paper but very often they may not deliver the goods. One such area is the over hype created about examination stress and the novel administrative ideas to reduce it. Of course, it is always the CBSE which leads the way, and the others follow meekly. Everything is being done in the name of making the system more student friendly in the short term sense. Students of CBSE and ICSE/ISC (I am not aware if this followed by other state boards) are given 15 minutes of reading time, in addition to the writing duration of an exam paper. This is done to ease their pre exam tensions. But as an invigilator, I have always found most of the examinees squirming in their seats, their pens itching to start writing, in those first fifteen minutes. My personal experience says that this does not relax their nerves in any way. Some of them even start writing on the sly and get offended if checked. A better way could be to make a shorter question paper, which can be solved by an average student in two hours, to be answered in two hours and a half. It should be then left to the individual student to divide this time between reading and writing the paper.

 The latest directive of CBSE allows students of class IX, flexible timings to answer the question paper. This may vary from 3 to three and a half hours. According to news paper reports, educationists and students are happy with this move. But aren’t students to be geared to manage their time efficiently, rather than be encouraged to treat it frivolously? We, Indians, are notorious to have a very lackadaisical attitude towards time management. It is rare indeed to find any official/social function begin on time. In fact it seems to have become fashionable for a function (especially wedding receptions) to begin three to four hours later than the time printed on the invitation card. And our senses are so dulled that nobody seems to mind it. Is this what we are trying to instil in our students also? It is good to lead a carefree life but not a careless life.
Time management is the need of the hour in today’s galloping world, and we need to help our students to do so. Their skills should be honed to finish a given task in the allotted time, rather than get into the habit of stretching it. Some students have the tendency to write till the last second, irrespective of the time allotted to them. Time needs to be respected and not frittered away.

Making the Class X Board exams optional is a step fraught with dangers. It will only create another divide between the ‘have passed’ and ‘have not appeared’, with the former always having an upper edge over the latter. Too much of flexibility is as bad as too much of rigidity. Either retain the exams for all, or simply take them away. It is better to give more options in the choice of subjects, which is already there.
Some stress at the appropriate age is always conducive to a child’s growth. Only if over ambitious parents would not force their unrealistic expectations upon their children, and only if the media does not over dramatize the situation, things would not be as bad as they appear to be.

Another alarming directive is about the private schools being free to fix their own fees, but under no obligation to pay teachers a minimum fixed salary. This amounts to allowing the education mafia having the cake as well as the icing. I agree that simply raising the salaries of teachers cannot ensure quality teaching. But a decent salary, coupled with work accountability, will go a long way in overhauling a decadent system. It is pathetic to see the generally low quality of teaching in government/aided institutions, with teachers drawing a fat salary; whereas their private school counterparts struggling with measly salaries do a comparatively better job.

Let us hope that this churning or ‘manthan’ of great ideas will bring forth the gems hidden in the psyche of the education fraternity and succeed in separating the nectar from the poison.
Tamso Ma Jyotirgamay – let us move from darkness to light.

Shobha Shukla
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS), has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP, and teaches Physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. Email:, website: