Saturday, February 16, 2008

On Schools

Talk to any parent who has a child about the school going age and it will ensure an instant connect. Why? Because choosing a school for the child is a complicated affair or atleast is made out to be so.

It was uncomplicated at one point and perhaps earlier. Back when I was of admission seeking age, my parents looked at two schools and picked one which was closer to our home - also the added advantage was that many children from our building (back then it was never apartment) went to that school and they were all good students. "All teachers are good" they said, which mean, they were strict and ensured that students learnt what they were taught. There were about 3-4 schools in the locality and each of them got a sizeable number of students. They all followed the Maharashtra Board and life was simple. Atleast school was. College admissions had become a maddening affair by the time we reached college, but thats for a later date.

Cut to today. There are schools and there are schools. Make that, there are schools and there are international schools. For the first three years of education you can choose the Montessori system (btw, this system is about a 100 years old and there is nothing modern about it) and there is the "other" system. Curiously, there is no newer method in use today - none that I know of, pardon my ignorance.

Then, the decision is on which board to follow. There is a State board, there is the CBSE and there is the ICSE. There is also an International Baccalaureate which, presumably, is a passport to education abroad - and not surprisingly comes at a premium. Some states have more boards - notably Tamil Nadus Matriculation board comes to mind. Opinions abound in which board to board and how one board might board careers vis-a-vis the other. At one point CBSE was reputed to be tough, so tough that they got 5 marks over state board students in Maharashtra while looking at college admissions. But now it seems evened out, but many parents want CBSE, ICSE because when they studied it was perceived to be tough, not necessarily for what it is today. Interestingly not too many people want local boards (atleast in Bangalore).

The board is only part of the decision. Then you look at schools itself. Some schools have an airconditioned campus, indeed airconditioned buses too. Others teach you useful skills like horse riding - essential in todays traffic conditions. Others teach you, quite unwittingly, patience, by virtue of a long drive to the school itself. Some of them teach you western classical music (when did I last hear that as a skillset?) and others can teach you ball dancing. A few of them emphasize traditional Indian values (and these are quite difficult to find, hidden as they are). Some schools have a subtle religious orientation while others have a clear cut religious orientation built into them and this, rather surprisingly for a so called secular society, is a big basis of school selection. All of these are good since it lets you pick and choose. You want your child to learn the piano as opposed to the mrudangam, great. You want your child to be rooted in Western culture, great. The only problem is that it adds to the confusion that already exists and many of these orientations are latent.

Ultimately the kindergarten you go to, the school you go to will only help so much - though undeniably there is an influence. Also, undeniably teachers have the capability to be a great influence on students, but not too many Radhakrishnans come to mind today - nor "all teachers there are good"is a story that you often hear. Also, neither education systems nor schools allow the influence to be sustained - over your education there are so many teachers that the bad influences cancel out the good influences and ultimately you see very little value. Then there is so much that the child gets from his or her peer group, the zeitgeist of an era, the parents and home environs and way of living (and why is that not prized?) that the ultimate career or success has very little to do with the school or schooling.

Ultimately parents choose the school (or schools choose the parents) option in a manner that is most convenient for them - which school will do as much as possible with as least risk as possible and that is a perfectly rational decision, however irrationally you may arrive at it.


jo said...

nice post..
Schooling system has become too complicated with entrance tests before admission, a child is expected to know quite a lot of things even before he starts learning. So, also exorbitant fees and donations which puts a lot of pressure on middle-class parents who want their children to receive the best schooling!
"over your education there are so many teachers that the bad influences cancel out the good influences and ultimately you see very little value"...very very true

Anonymous said...

schooling is good for the friends u gather thru the schools a few of which remains ur best frinds even after 20 years ... on hindsight thats the major contri of the school... character building and school no causation...

Earnest said...


1. The English syllabus of the CBSE is better manageable than that of ICSE/ISC. While a broad-based syllabus is generally percieved to be good (an issue that needs to be debated in the current scenario of focused approach), it increases the load on students, thus leading to stress. A student should be given the option of studying only the basics of the language if his/her interests lie elsewhere. This choice is given in CBSE, not in ICSE/ISC. English is not compulsory even at the Cambridge International Examinations.

2. The CBSE syllabus is presented in a more scientific manner. The entire syllabus is divided into units and every unit is allotted the number of periods required to cover it in the year and also the weightage of marks it will carry in the examination. Thus, the teacher and student can plan the study of the various segments of the syllabus accordingly. Not so in ISC

3. The examination pattern of entrance examinations (IIT-JEE & PMT) follows that of CBSE since CBSE conducts these examinations. ICSE has no role in this. This puts those ISC students who are interested in competitive examinations at a disadvantage as they need to reorient themselves to a different system.

4. The ICSE syllabus (Class X) is very heavy compared to that of CBSE. ICSE has two papers in English, whereas CBSE has only one. ICSE has three papers in Science (Physics, Chemistry & Biology) whereas CBSE has only one. ICSE has two papers in Social Studies (History & Geography) whereas CBSE has only one. The school bag of an ICSE student is much heavier than that of a CBSE student.

5. Environmental Education is compulsory at the ICSE & ISC examinations whereas this is not so at the CBSE examination. CISCE, in a panic reaction to Supreme Court ruling regarding EE, rushed into it while CBSE is content to wait a review of this ruling where the matter may be dropped/modified.

6. From next year CBSE will give only grades in the examination results. This is seen as a progressive move. ICSE has not made such an announcement as yet; it is struggling to keep its head over the waters of internal (mis)management issues which may take quite some time to sort out.

7. It is a myth that ICSE is well recognized all over the world and not CBSE. Now UCAS recognizes CBSE at par with ISC .

8. CBSE has in recent years been very proactive in devising new courses that are academic with a vocational slant. It is more responsive to the needs of a dynamically changing pedagogical scenario. The NCERT connection makes it a very pro-active education board and not just an examining body.

9. The concept of “Front Line Curriculum” has been put in place in CBSE that requires syllabi be done on an on-going basis and 10 per cent of irrelevant or outdated material is replaced with more pertinent matter. CISCE has no academically designed process or programme for syllabi revision/upgradation.

10. CBSE has well-networked state-and national-level sports (both indoor and outdoor) activities. CISCE has a state and national level essay writing competition and debate.

11. Examination schedule in CBSE is more student friendly than that in CISCE.

12. The current leadership in CISCE does not inspire confidence, unlike CBSE and NCERT that has renowned educationists managing the affairs. CISCE’s unspoken but obvious policy of keeping out non-angloindians from key positions makes it an insular body with poor prospects for the future. For example, its decision making body, the Executive Committee, does not have a single non-angloindian on it; the Chairman and the Secretary are both anglo-indians with little or no credentials as educationists.