The two new proposals from the Ministry for Human Resource Development (HRD) — a common maths and science syllabus at the secondary stage from next year and a common entrance examination for medicine and engineering — will bring some cheer to students who have been long traumatised by a rigid system. It will also be encouraging to students that HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has lost none of his zeal for reforming the education system. Education being a State subject poses a tricky problem for the central ministry, but in the case of the two proposals, Mr Sibal seems to have won the state boards over. The choice of maths and science for the common curriculum is obvious, there can be only one objective interpretation of these subjects unlike, say, history. The HRD ministry has, however, not prescribed common textbooks, giving the state boards enough leeway to impart the subjects their own way.
The logic behind the common syllabus is to enhance quality and create a level playing field for students coming out of school. Now here we may be in for a long haul, given the patchy quality of school education across the country. This will, of course, have to be tackled simultaneously. But Mr Sibal seems confident that the state boards are up to the job. The common entrance examination will mean that students will now not have to run from pillar to post in order to try for a seat in medicine and engineering. The common syllabus will also ensure that there is some degree of uniformity in their subject knowledge and that should make things easier for them. These reforms were long overdue but it remains to be seen whether all universities will agree to do away with their own testing mechanism as this brings in revenue.
A common entrance test will be a massive exercise and there has to be a uniform monitoring system to ensure that it goes off smoothly. But then such problems are bound to arise at the teething stage and both moves are positive for the education system. With the proposals for doing away with Class X boards and the current ones, education, long neglected, has been put back on centrestage. The fact that the HRD ministry sees its role only as a facilitator, will hopefully, mean that the schemes won’t get tied up in red tape. Now we may still be a long way away from the nation speaking in one voice, as
Mr Sibal has said. But at least the churning of a moribund system has begun in right earnest.