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HT Top Schools Survey 2016: A different school of thought

Move over maths and history, specialised subjects such as astrology and media studies are slowly becoming the norm in city schools

mumbai Updated: Sep 27, 2016 17:57 IST
Musab Qazi
Most of the new subjects being offered by schools are targeted at skill development among students and to orient them towards research by making them work on projects.
Most of the new subjects being offered by schools are targeted at skill development among students and to orient them towards research by making them work on projects. (Pratham Gokhale/HT photo)

Education in schools has always been associated with basic subjects such as maths, science, history, geography and physical education. Not Anymore. In the past few years, many city schools have introduced specialised subjects that students earlier wouldn’t get to learn until degree college.

The aim: Opening up new learning avenues and incorporating practical learning. Several Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) and Cambridge International Examination (CIE) schools have introduced subjects such as media studies, legal studies and entrepreneurship, which allow students to acquire new skills and develop talents in specific areas. Other schools are offering ‘soft skills’ and ‘career guidance’ to better prepare them for higher education and employment.

In 2009, CIE introduced a subject called global perspectives – an unconventional subject that helps students make links between the subjects they are studying so they can apply their learning to different issues of global importance. Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) students can choose among topics such as climate change, poverty and equality and international law. Bombay Cambridge School, Andheri (East), has introduced the subject in the Class 1 to 7 curriculum, on a pilot basis.

“[Global perspectives] provides opportunities for enquiry into, and reflection on, key global issues from a personal, local and global perspective. It cultivates students’ critical thinking, research, communication and collaboration, which are needed to be successful at school and university as well as in their future careers,” said Ruchira Ghosh, Regional Director (South Asia), CIE.

Most of the new subjects being offered by schools are targeted at skill development among students and to orient them towards research by making them work on projects. For example, media studies, which is a part of the curriculum at RN Podar School, some schools belonging to Ryan International Group as well as schools adhering to CIE, offers the students a chance to create their own magazines and television shows. Neti Srinivasan, chief operating officer (COO) of Ryan group, said, “The schools’ founder had a vision that the learning should be broad-based and the students should be aware of the world around. Media is a window to the world and has influence on it.”

Meanwhile, Sacred Heart School in Kalyan has introduced a subject that offers a window beyond this world: Astronomy. The school has built a planetarium within its premises where students engage in star gazing and high altitude photography.

In keeping with its Gandhian outlook, Shishuvan School in Matunga has introduced a ‘khadi curriculum’ as part of its Socially Useful Productive Work (SUPW) for classes between 5 and 10, where students are taught to weave clothes on a charkha and a handloom. “We want them to be self-reliant, while imparting the values of dignity and labour,” said Shubhadra Shenoy, the school principal.

Apart from skill development, some schools in the city have introduced subjects aimed to develop students’ personalities. While ‘value education’ has been a part of school curriculum at primary level, these new subjects are aimed at the personality development of students from higher standards as well. For example, in the last academic year, Utpal Shangvi School in Juhu added a ‘soft skills programme’ in the curriculum of the classes between kindergarten and Class 10. Udayachal Schools have started a ‘peace project’ for students from Class 7 to 9. As part of the pilot project, the students discuss topics ranging from death to gender equality for an hour, every week.

St Mary’s School (ICSE) in Mazgaon, has a ‘career guidance programme’ as part of its class 7 to 10 curriculum to make students choose a career by having them “see into their own nature”. “The programme gives students the information about the careers available in the 21st century. It gives them a holistic understanding about themselves,” said Father Francis Swamy, the school principal.

Read: HT Top School Survey 2016: Syllabus a hurdle in teaching in hi-tech ways

While many schools in the city are teaching unconventional subjects, some of them are experimenting with an unconventional teaching method – combining different subjects together.

Even as many institutes of higher education in the country, including the University of Mumbai (MU), are yet to adapt the ‘interdisciplinary approach’ – which allows students to choose subjects across the education streams, these schools have already put their faith in the idea. The schools say that this approach, which often involves practical work, better prepares students for the challenges of life.

Here’s an example of how it works: while teaching the topic of ‘sound’ in physics, the teacher might use the opportunity to talk about music – a related topic, while also dwells on the topic of noise pollution from environmental sciences.

Nevertheless, there are different ways the schools are implementing the idea in classrooms. For Universal Education Group, which runs 14 schools in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), it’s about combining science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Even though, engineering and technology hardly, if ever, made it to the school curriculum, Jesus Lall, CEO of Universal Group, believes that employing these subjects is necessary if students are to be able to solve “tougher”, “real-life” problems. “All our schools have facilities where we let students try things hands-on. But the key here is to ensure an integrated, cohesive learning,” he said.

Bombay Cambridge School in Andheri, on the other hand, puts to use the flexibility of Cambridge International Examination (CIE) curriculum to devise an interdisciplinary approach of its own. “CIE simply provides a curriculum framework. Our job is to integrate all the subjects we teach with the Cambridge value system of critical thinking and hands-on learning,” said Savita Venkat, the school principal.

Meanwhile, for its primary section, Singhania School in Thane has adopted a thematic instruction technique, where a specific theme is used to teach various subjects. According to Revathi Srinivasan, principal, the technique instills joy and curiosity among children.