Loading, Unloading and Downloading the Syllabus

G. Balasubramanian is a doyen of school education in India. He has held several positions of leadership at CBSE, including Director Academics. He was the brain behind the introduction of several innovations at CBSE which included frontline curriculum, Communicative Approach to Language Teaching, Information Technology, Alternatives to Homework, etc. He is also an author, poet and a sought-after speaker at education conferences world over.



How much can a child learn? And how much should a child learn? The churning of ideas on this issue appears to be like the churning of the ocean of milk by the Devas and the Asuras, each trying to see who will get the nectar first! Everyone on the by-lanes appears to be a researcher and an authority to speak on this issue. Mythology allows it, but education is no mythology!

During one of my interactions with a passionate teacher, she told me “We don’t go to a doctor and tell him ‘please prescribe this medicine’; we don’t go to a lawyer and tell him ‘please argue the case under this section of the IPC’; but, anyone can come to a teacher and tell, this is how you have to teach!” While I understood the pain behind her passion, it also needs to be admitted that absence of adequate professionalism in the teaching community has led to this situation. As education involves the serious business of shaping the future of a society and a nation, everyone has a concern for that; but everyone believes that their view alone is right! Hence the curriculum (the syllabus, because there is a profound confusion in understanding these two terms) gets uploaded, downsized and frequently window-dressed!
The courses preparing teachers do not give concepts and skills pregnant with professionalism to handle such sensitive issues with the kind of understanding and expertise that is needed. The attitude of ‘subservience’ by the teaching community should be replaced with better ‘self-esteem’ and ‘authority blended with competence’ to overhaul the system!
But the recent debate in some parts of the country that the syllabus should be reduced in the government schools forthwith and private schools should examine and follow suit – appears equally as a pernicious view with least understanding of how learning takes place and what schools and teachers should do to facilitate learning. (Forget the legality of such decisions, such quick-fix approaches have done more damage to the children than helped them in any way!) The argument that the size of the syllabus doesn’t give adequate time for co-curricular activities is not tenable and appears more as a cover for non-performance. It is a myopic view! It appears like pruning the leg to suit the size of the shoe!
The researches in neuro-cognitive sciences prove beyond doubt that the brain works on the principle ‘use it or lose it’. It accepts challenges and they alone help the brain to maximize its efficacy. Further learning is never a linear process; learning happens despite the curriculum design, the syllabus, the textbooks and the pedagogy. Hence, the window dressing of the syllabus by adding a chapter or two, deleting or changing will only add more confusion unless there is adequate justification. One also has to ensure the impact of such decisions in the learning curve of the students!
One of the basic issues, that challenges any learning process is the stress associated with it. While the content load is certainly an issue, but the dominant issue is the psychological stress associated with the process –  that which is caused by whipping the learner like a racehorse to reach the winning point and bring a jackpot! As learning depends on attitude, aptitude and several environmental concerns like socio-economic and geographical conditions, the system should be addressed to facilitate contextual learning through appropriate pedagogy, by continuous empowerment of teachers and helping them to reach out to the learners!
Someone suddenly appearing and bursting crackers on the road may attract the attention of the passers-by for some time, but the smoke and noise out of it will disappear sooner than later. Decision-makers need to understand that off the cuff decisions by them are like serving fast food to a community and will not be healthy in the long run!
This article was originally published in TheTeacher.in magazine in the month of February, 2019.