Science, Commerce or Humanities?’ — every teenager is asked this question by a nosy, judgmental relative upon entering high school. But not for long. The next generation of school students may finally be spared this traumatic rite of passage of choosing their subject stream in Class 11.
The Narendra Modi-led government’s ambitious National Education Policy (NEP 2020), which completely overhauls the current education system in India, was approved earlier this week. One of the major decisions it takes is to eliminate the ‘rigid’ separation of streams. You can pick and choose the subjects you want — learning history and physics at the same time.
The holy trinity of subject streams in Class 11, with one stream always deemed more divine than the others, have been considered an important step in any Indian student’s life. So much so, that everyone from your great-aunt to your neighbour’s uncle will be interested in the ‘life path’ you choose — because the subjects you choose to study as a 16-year-old ultimately decides the course of your life, obviously. But what they really want to know is whether you were smart enough to get accepted into science, and how many tuition or coaching classes you required, if you did.
At the heart of it, NEP may be considered a bold move to reform a beleaguered education system, but the Ministry of Human Resource Development, or rather the Ministry of Education, missed out a rather crucial detail: Indian parents and their love affair with the science stream.
Is it finally time for this affair to end? Or will this decades-old relationship persevere against all odds?
A tale of emotional blackmail
It always starts young. You hear about that distant cousin who got into IIT, or that neighbour’s daughter who is trying to crack the AIIMS entrance exam, and by the time you’re 10-years-old, you realise that the gold medal is the science stream that you HAVE to achieve when you get to Class 11 — for your parents. At this point, it is prudent to note that what you want doesn’t really matter.
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And the other streams? God no, Commerce or Humanities are not viable options at all. They are what people who don’t score enough in the board exams ‘settle’ for. But who will tell them, ‘MFA (Master of Fine Arts) is the new MBA’.
This may all seem quite dramatic, but one should never undermine Indian parents and their dedication to emotionally blackmail their children to accept one fundamental principle — ‘they know best’. And this is proved when the time comes for choosing your stream.
‘Choosing’ is putting it very kindly. So many children are bullied into the science stream, regardless of whether they have the aptitude for it. If you did not at least try to be an engineer or doctor in India, then you were most definitely not a smart student. Not that teachers, schools, or parents in the country should ever get to decide who is smart or not.
For some like me, who were fortunate enough to convince their parents of the joys of Humanities and the empty promises of Science, life was a tad easier. But the next two years in school were then spent trying to prove to every Tom, Dick and Harry that Humanities was, in fact, not a ‘useless’ stream. This also involved having to endure sympathetic murmurs from other parents, blatant outrage from offended relatives, and the aforementioned emotional blackmail by parents.
Once, a decidedly Tamilian uncle of mine asked me about my future plans and very benevolently gave me two options — “So, what will you study? Computer science or medical?” Sorry, not engineering, that’s a masculine profession.
Could NEP 2020 truly bring an end to this wild rollercoaster that every student has to invariably undergo as part of the ‘Indian high school experience’?
Hope for change
It took 34 years for a change in the education system. So, the rechristened education ministry needs to overhaul at least 34 years, if not more, of the science-stream raga that parents have been dutifully chanting.
It definitely won’t be easy, but it needs to be done. Science, as a stream, has for years encouraged rote learning of supremely complicated concepts, without an emphasis on actual understanding. For most teachers of the stream, it’s an opportunity to mentally harass students so that they, in turn, can prepare for the mental harassment of engineering and medical entrance exams.
The science stream does not offer an understanding of the social world we live in (like in Sociology), the politics of the land we inhabit (that we study in Political Science), discover the wrongs and rights of our past (like in History), and the entire quagmire of the economic system that we study in Economics. These are all extremely important lessons and develop critical thinking skills — something intolerant India really needs.
More importantly, no teenager should have to undergo the whole ‘Sharmaji ka beta in engineering and beti in medical’ argument. It’s irritating, regressive and purely traumatic.
If nothing, the NEP could at least give Indian parents an opportunity to grow up. Or is that wishful thinking?
Views are personal.
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