Education
Experts say that this new syllabus focuses more on concepts and understanding rather than memorising and reproducing answers.
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After 12 long years, Tamil Nadu has finally revamped its state board school syllabus for all classes from standard one to 12. TN formed a Curriculum Development Committee in June 2017 under the Chairmanship of M Anandakrishnan, former Vice-Chancellor of Anna University, and released a draft of the new syllabus in November last year.

While the syllabus for standard one to 10 was revised seven years ago, higher secondary syllabus has needed its long overdue overhaul for 12 years now. TN Education Minister Sengottaiyan had reiterated that the revised syllabus would surpass other boards and would help TN students to crack national level competitive exams.

Officials from the SCERT (State Council of Educational Research and Training), which was responsible for revamping the syllabus, say the change in syllabus was done in just two years on a war footing. Joint Director V Kumar of SCERT asserts, “Students will be better prepared for any kind of competitive exams like NEET,  IIT, TNPSC, UPSC, etc.”

Experts point out that this new syllabus focuses more on concepts and understanding rather than memorising and reproducing answers. The state government, too, has been working towards making education more rounded in multiple steps.

For instance, it dropped the blueprint system that allowed teachers and students to selectively learn or omit portions from textbooks. This method encouraged rote learning the prescribed chapters based on the marks they would fetch in the board exams. The government has also banned public announcements of rankings in 10th and 12th boards, and is enforcing board exams for class 11 to ensure schools don’t skip the syllabus for the sake of 12th.

What are the challenges?

While most teachers are convinced that the updated syllabus itself is good, they are worried about the implementation and whether they will have the time and tools to carry through with it. Prince Gajendra Babu, an education expert, adds that the current revision comes as an overload to students. “We welcome their efforts to bring in the new syllabus. We are only questioning the overloading and the way certain things are being implemented,” he says.

The syllabus is designed to encourage understanding and critical thinking, but the books are just one part of the system. Lt N Md Azmathulla, Assistant Professor, PG and Research Department of Zoology at the New College in Chennai, warns that even under this system, rote learning could make its way back.

“It’s a sudden change. Earlier, students were told what sections of the chapter needed to be memorised to score marks and what could be omitted. But now, students might get scared looking at the enormity of the syllabus. They cannot study selectively anymore. Understanding concepts is the key here,” he says.

Teachers also share that the new syllabus comes with more examples and better nuances. For instance, in Biology, the chapter on genetics has been updated with content on inheritance, genetic disorders, chromosomal anomalies, etc. Azmathulla, explains, “Another important highlight of the new syllabus is that the content has been streamlined to incorporate continuity, enabling better understanding. Students cannot just memorise it like definitions or procedures.”

Yet another new addition is the QR code provided in every textbook for all classes. Usha Rani, Director of SCERT, says that Tamil Nadu is the first to do so in the country, “Students can access additional content by using the QR code in the textbook.” These QR codes will lead students and teachers to audio-visuals to enhance conceptual learning.

Even while SCERT has rolled out the new syllabus, the department adds that in coming years, further revisions will be made to spruce up content. “This process won’t end. Every year changes will be implemented in the text books. We are accepting inputs from teachers,” explains Usha Rani.

The Tamil Nadu State Board’s new syllabus is a commendable change. Yet, its success lies in how government school teachers are trained to adapt and how students are evaluated in their state board exams.

Jayapriya, science teacher at a Panchayat Union Middle School reasons that the aim of the syllabus is to give students an all rounded education. She further adds that evaluation too plays an important role in determining the success of this new syllabus.

“They will have to take into consideration that this revision might take time for students to get used to. At least for the next three to five years students will have difficulties in coping up. We hope that by the time the present 6th standard students comes up to standard 10 these initial hurdles will be cleared. Meanwhile, we will have to give up on rote learning system or else this syllabus revision can be considered a failure,” she concludes.