As CBSE Downsizes Its Curriculum, the Idea of India Takes a Hit

I remember the day quite clearly. I was in my school uniform, holding my Class 10 board results and waiting with my mother outside the school library that had been turned into a makeshift counselling room.

That was the day incoming Class 11 students were asked to choose their electives, one that would see them through the last two years of school, into college, and eventually into a career. I had secured a “respectable” percentage that could very well put me in the coveted Science section, but I was a Humanities kid through and through, even though both my parents dabbled in various fields of science (from pharmacology to zoology to biotechnology to sustainable resources).

However, everyone insisted that I take up Science, because who takes up Arts with a good percentage? I fought, and with the help of my grandfather – a devout liberal artist – I finally got my way. After all, if I was to become a journalist, or study international relations, or work as a policy analyst, wouldn’t I need to study those core elements now rather than learn about scientific whatnots and waste two years shuttling myself between coaching centres?

But things have changed from 2006, and how. Now, even if a student manages to convince people that taking Arts isn’t for ‘backbenchers’, they may not be able to truly study all the subjects they hoped to in order to get a step ahead in life.

In its latest decision to have drawn flak, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has decided to cut certain topics from the political science curriculum to “ease the pressure on students” who are juggling their academic year alongside a whole lot of uncertainty. 

The deletions were made as part of the direction of the HRD ministry, which asked the CBSE to reduce the syllabus for Classes 9 to 12 by 30% to make up for the academic loss caused by the pandemic.

But, as always, the devil is in the details. The topics that were decided to be cut out from Class 11’s political science curriculum for the academic year 2020-21 are:

The Need for Local Governments
World Security
India’s Relations with Neighbours
Social and New Social Movements in India

How does one make sense of such a decision, especially when many of these topics are necessary reading for anyone who wishes to better understand the workings of our country over the past few years? In December 2019, there was inclusive and expansive protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Several violent episodes took place, where the State could be seen playing a brutal role in its crackdown on peaceful dissenters and college students. Eventually, it all bubbled into the mass violence we witnessed in Delhi in February 2020 where over 50 people lost their lives and thousands were displaced.

Also read: School Textbooks Need to Teach the Constitution, Not Sing the Government’s Praises

The protest movement also saw scores of women take to the streets to fight for equality in sovereignty and citizenship. But such core concepts are no longer necessary reading for thousands and thousands of students. 

We grew up learning of mass student protests, whether it was the Mandal Commission in early 90s or the Kent University protests back in late 60s – it was almost a rite of passage for young politically active students to get on the wrong side of authority and demand answers.

But with the absence of learning about these movements, would affected students be able to gauge the invigorating nature of asserting identity and curiosity? Of course, there is the internet, but the legitimacy these topics get by being taught in school and discussed with peers would no longer be there. 

The CBSE clarified that this is indeed a “one time decision” keeping in mind the 2020-21 academic session that has been disrupted by the pandemic. Education minister Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank tweeted and said there was a “false narrative” around the decision that was pandering to the forces of sensationalism, suggesting that the “core concepts” had been “retained”.

So students beyond this session will learn about these topics, but not those who are in school right now. While one may wish to believe the government’s stand that there is nothing insidious about this decision, it’s hard to do just that considering the topics it has more or less labelled irrelevant are subjects being dissected in our polity day in and day out. 

The removed topics, in fact, are indicative of what the government would probably find convenient to do away with permanently, should it have the opportunity to do so.

Most fittingly, it is those of us who have benefited from having studied these topics who must remain vigilant at this time. I took Humanities, then did a bachelors in journalism and a masters in media and international relations. I eventually became a journalist simply because I wanted to report facts with integrity and objectivity – an idea which is entirely too lost in most mainstream media today.

So, are we telling the students of today, many of whom may want to be media professionals or policy experts, that there is no worth in understanding border relationships, diplomacy, security, federalism and secularism – the most important tenet of our constitution?

That a person needn’t know what makes a democracy a democracy before questioning people about how their version of the concept is “flawed”?

Maybe I am jumping the gun here, maybe CBSE has an alternative plan to introduce these topics to students somehow. But as of now, there are students in far flung corners of the country who do not have easy access to technology but have a vigour and ambition to be a thought leader or a changemaker. For many, it becomes all the more difficult to grasp ‘the idea of India’, and our country’s aspirations, flaws, ideologies, legacy and limitations.

Shiralie Chaturvedi is a writer who loves Murakami and Seth; indie cinema and bands; cries listening to patriotic songs, and is happiest at home with her loved ones.

Featured image credit: Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash