From the next academic year onwards, students in Class 11 of the Tamil Nadu state syllabus can opt to study either three core subjects or four core subjects along with language papers for their board exams. The government of Tamil Nadu issued an order to this effect on Wednesday, which stated that from academic year 2020-21, students of Class 11 can choose to write their board exams for 500 marks instead of the 600 marks at present.
The change in the course pattern is an attempt to ease the burden on the students and enable them to find time to prepare for competitive entrance examinations like the NEET and IIT-JEE. Speaking to TNM, a senior official in the state school education department said, “This would give students a choice to study only what is necessary to clear the entrance exams for medicine and engineering. The burden and the related mental stress on the students is reduced if they opt to study just three core subjects instead of four.”
The present streams are: Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Maths; Computer Science, Physics, Chemistry, Maths; Commerce, Accountancy, Economics, Computer Science/Business Maths. According to the government order, students in the science stream can choose to avoid Maths completely, if their aim is to write NEET and qualify for the medical entrance. Similarly, students aspiring to become engineers can now choose to avoid Biology altogether in their higher secondary curriculum.
A welcome move for teachers
The decision by the government has been welcomed by the Tamil Nadu Teachers Association. PK Ilamaran, the state president of the association and a government school teacher for over two decades, told TNM that the burden on the students will be reduced considerably.
“When this idea was first discussed, the proposal was to combine the language papers. But it is great that the government decided to cut down the subject papers of the students,” he said. However, he added that the government should implement the move from the present academic year 2019-2020.
Restricts the options available to students in college
Some experts, however, seem wary about the impact of the decision on the future of the students.
Jayaprakash Gandhi, an education consultant with over 20 years’ experience in the field, said that while the move could be considered fantastic for students who know where they are headed to in terms of career goals, it may be counterproductive for students who want to keep their options open.
“For example, for Commerce students, none of the options given in the government order has Economics and Maths together. This essentially restricts the options available for the students after Class 12,” he said. He points to the fact that most top colleges in the country prefer to admit Commerce students with Maths background in Class 12 for their B.Com course. However, the Tamil Nadu state syllabus has not offered Maths to Commerce students in recent years, instead providing Business Maths or Computer Science as an alternative.
G Saimukundhan, a practicing Chartered Accountant and a CA educator, explained that in recent times, a lot of Commerce students are not restricting themselves to chartered accountancy as a career option. “They are also looking at the five-year law programme as a feasible option. The moment you take Maths out of the equation, the number of people who are opting for CA is going to come down,” he said. He also added that the newly announced model is worrying considering the impact it will have on the futures of the students.
“I don’t think it is going to be helpful for a Commerce student. Even assuming students do get into B. Com in this scheme, what happens to their competitiveness among their peers?” he wondered.
Schools anyway call the shots
Another crucial issue around the new government order is the way in which the intent of the education department would translate on the ground. Schools in Tamil Nadu have traditionally called the shots when it came to offering subject groups for higher secondary classes to students, not to mention scheduling classes for students who choose to study four and three core subjects.
“There will be practical issues for schools in terms of drawing a timetable that ensures no subject or exams clash with each other,” said Jayaprakash Gandhi, adding that the schools must also have the necessary infrastructure like teachers, classrooms and support facilities like labs to implement the order without glitches.
Saimukundhan also seemed to agree with the fact that schools decide to offer streams to students based on a lot of other factors. “If the schools choose to factor in their pass percentage and reputation, then students are again going to be left at the mercy of what the schools have to offer rather than what their choices are,” he said.
“For well-established schools with enough number of students in each subject choice scheduling will not be a problem. But if students are sparse in each subject choice, then it becomes a problem for us,” a correspondent of a private school in Coimbatore district said. She also explained that students tend to be easy-going in their academics in the higher secondary classes which might prove counterproductive in their college days.
Proper guidance options necessary
The move will also imply that parents and students who are entering Class 11 in Tamil Nadu’s schools will now need to make an informed choice about their future career options. For families that lack access to guidance, this would pose a risk of them making uninformed choices.
“This is as bad as the old way of giving away marks aplenty and instilling a fake sense of confidence in the minds of the students. The government is trying to find a quick fix, but this is not a fix at all,” Saimukudhan said, adding, “It feels like the government is literally telling the students that they are capable of only this much.”
Panning the government on issuing random government orders, the school correspondent said that it would be better if the government involved all stakeholder representatives before bringing in such huge changes in the curriculum.