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India’s school education now has three class layers. Blame political meddling in syllabus

Unprofessional working style of the CBSE under constant political pressure have also been pushing India’s schools to opt for international boards.

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Recent attempts by CBSE to drop some chapters from Class X, XI and XII syllabus have brought the spotlight back on ‘saffronisation of education’ in India. Although the CBSE has made similar amendments in the past, this time, the cause of aspersion has been the board’s intention, particularly the removal of certain chapters from social science textbooks. Political actors have been proactively making arguments and counter-arguments on such inclusions/deletions, but their cacophony hides the larger transformation in India’s school education.

Such frequent changes are an outcome of political battle over social science syllabus, and have been resulting in the gradual emergence of three layers of school education system in India — each accessed by different classes.

Also read: Hindi’s hegemony didn’t start with NEP, Amit Shah or Ajay Devgn. It’s been on since 1947

Battle over social science syllabus

The controversy vis a vis the design of NCERT textbooks under Atal Bihari Vajpai government, and their subsequent replacement by the Manmohan Singh government, after allegations of ‘saffronisation’ emerged, can be easily recalled. However, the roots of the political battle over social science syllabus do not limit going to the Vajpayee government, if one believes the writings of noted American sociologist Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph. In their book Explaining Indian Democracy: The realm of institutions-state formation and institutional change, the authors provide a detailed account of how history textbooks written by ‘Marxist professors’ —  R.S. Sharma, Romila Thapar, and Bipan Chandra — were replaced with those by R.C. Majumdar under the Janata Party government owing to pressure from the Jan Sangh faction. Books by Sharma, Thapar and Chandra were reintroduced after the return of the Congress.

The brief history of the battle over syllabus particularly social sciences suggests that it has been for the ideas and ideologies such as secularism, nationalism, diversity, threat of communalism etc. on which the Indian State and democracy would be founded rather than an academic exercise.

Also read: ‘Indianising’ education isn’t about Macaulay or ‘saffronisation’. It’s ‘tadka’ vs ‘achar’

The emergence of three layers of school education

There has been very little analysis of the implications of politically motivated changes.

to syllabus, particularly the macro amendments. However, recent reports suggest big transformation going on in school education system, led by India’s elite schools of metropolitan cities — to leave CBSE per se, and opt for international boards such as International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and International Baccalaureate (IB) .

After interacting with some of the teachers at international schools, I found that besides several pull factors such as liberty to charge high fee and higher prospects for their students securing admission in foreign universities, the unprofessional working style of the CBSE under constant political pressure have also been pushing India’s schools to opt for international boards. Despite and IGCSE and IB schools charging exorbitant fees, an increasing number of Indian students, particularly from super elite families, are withdrawing from the Indian boards and opting for these international boards.

The figure below provides a graphical representation of the increasing number of students in India since 2006 who have been opting for the IB affiliated schools for its diploma programme. The figure shows a linear increase in the number of students. The data has been sourced from the Diploma Programme Statistical Bulletin of the IB.

The increasing number of students opting for IGCSE and IB schools suggest a gradual emergence of the third layer of school education system in India. Primarily, there existed two layers of school education system in the country — CBSE and ICSE affiliated schools and state boards institutions. The medium of instruction has been a marker of hierarchy among these two layers with English being the main medium of instruction in the former and the regional languages in the latter. Schools affiliated to international boards are imparting education mainly in English and also teaching foreign languages. Teaching Indian languages is not compulsory for them, but they are allowed to teach one regional language.

The said layers of school education also indicate the three classes of Indian society — super elite, middle class, and the marginalised. Students from super elite class would go to international board schools, middle-class students to CBSE and ICSE schools and the marginalised to state board institutions. There might be few exceptions in this schema, but exceptions don’t make a rule.

These emerging trends of schooling also indicate the kind of education that is being imparted. The elite students not only have the liberty to study the course, subject, and languages of their choice, but also without a burden of studying Indian nationalism, Indian languages, patriotism, and cultural values. The middle class students would have limited choice in terms of course, syllabus, and language and will have to study Indian nationalism, patriotism, and cultural values. The students from marginalised communities will keep alive regional and local languages, as well as culture and knowledge.

This emerging mode of school education system has been reproducing a new kind of social and economic inequality. The super elite class is becoming the ultimate beneficiary, since all changes have been only impacting students from middle and marginalised classes. The super elite remain unaffected — enjoying their full liberty to achieve their economic goals. This could also be the reason why the super elite do not raise their voice over the current school education system in India.

Arvind Kumar (@arvind_kumar__) is doing his PhD in Politics, Department of Politics & IRs, Royal Holloway, University of London. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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