For better or for worse: Environment gropes its way into national curriculum

After the immediate and expected reactions (signalled by an uproar among state-level bureaucrats) to the union minister Mr Kapil Sibal’s dictum on board examinations, its long term impacts on the Indian education machinery  have now begun to unfold.  Some are direct and rather heart warming. 

For instance, the aura surrounding the Xth boards is on the wane, as word has gone around that students will henceforth (from academic year starting April, 2011) be graded on their performance. Their marks will not be revealed. No change could be more welcome than this one. Again, this has allegedly prompted the examination authorities to ease up pressure on the designated curriculum setters and text book publishers, for more volumes of paper. A much-desired domino effect. 

But some of the indirect, probably unintended, consequences are not so wholesome. Like the short cut tactics being adopted by the same authorities on fronts that they consider to be the fringe areas. Yes, I am talking about Environment, which got catapulted onto the ‘mainstream subject’ platform only two years ago, with much hype and ceremony. Though CBSE was yet to pronounce it as a separate subject, ICSE had gone ahead and taken the big, bold step, introducing it as a new subject in the final Xth and XIIth board examinations’ schedule. Now, strangely, Sibal’s sweeping reforms have prompted ICSE to backtrack. It has taken environment off the charts from this year. Which again, is by itself,  nothing to lament over. After all, tests are hardly an ideal tool to attract a student’s attention to a particular subject. But the reason cited for the move is rather difficult to digest. As per fraternity grapevine, the education mandarins are unhappy about the high scores that even average examinees were notching up on this subject! And this was helping them to pile up a total that was substantial enough to ensure entry into the streams of their choice. This will not do, say the disapproving doyens of CBSE and ICSE. Result? Environment will be denied a status of its own, they have ruled, and will continue to be a part of every other subject.    

The good news is, the system that has shaped up as a result of this ridiculously snobbish point of view is anything but that. It now stands thus: NCERT, the national curriculum creator, has come up with  project books for classes IXth-Xth and XIth-XIIth., based on the norms that were originally set by its experts on ‘how to teach environment’ to school students. These booklets raise issues of critical concern, like water and air pollution, vehicular emissions etc, and then urge students to do activities designed to mitigate these problems. They push them to do, rather than confine them to classrooms with text books on environment.

Could the future look any better or greener? Maybe not. There is just one niggling doubt in my mind. What if the students actually begin to like these activities and compete for top notch scores again? Will the rule makers shake their heads and send them back to their classrooms?