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Classrooms brace for change

mumbai Updated: Sep 29, 2010 01:32 IST

Teachers, parents and students are grappling with the progressive yet drastic changes in curricula and evaluation announced by the CBSE board last year and the SSC board last month. HT top schools survey

After the school day ends, Mansi Katya, 14, and her group of four classmates get busy working on their science project on plant and animal classification. They are considering bringing some live specimens to class when it’s their turn to present. “It’s fun to study this way, better than from a textbook,” said Katya, a class 9 student at Sharon English school in Mulund.

As part of a series of changes in the way schools evaluate students, the state government has upgraded some parts of the SSC syllabus and ushered in new ways of evaluating students outside the confines of just an exam.
State board schools are in the process of reforming their teaching styles, something that CBSE schools began doing last year after the human resources development ministry announced sweeping reforms. Both boards have introduced comprehensive continuous evaluation, or CCE, which does away with year-ending exams in favour of grading students on academic and extra-curricular activities. It also made the class 10 board exam optional from 2011. The Right to Education Act, which became effective this year, also mandates such changes.

“Learning has become more application-based now. It is going well so far,” said Ophelia Barreto, principal of Podar School at Santacruz. While educators mostly welcome the changes in theory, in practice they face challenges, including resistance from students and parents. “When I asked my class 3 students how many would like to give an exam at the end of year, they all shot up their hands. I was shocked,” said Thelma Dias, a teacher at Holy Name School in Colaba. “They are confused.”
CBSE schools, now in their second year of CCE, still face vestiges of the same reluctance and confusion. “It’s taking parents time to adjust to the optional board exam, but by next year they should settle down,” said Indu Mathur, principal of Apeejay School in Kharghar. But while CBSE schools this year had enough time to plan their activities and lessons, SSC schools and parents are struggling with questions as the government issued a formal resolution on the CCE only in the third week of August, well into the first term.

“This is a very confusing time for parents,” said Akram Khan, whose daughters study in classes 8 and 10 at SSC schools in Bandra. “The only information we have been getting is through the news and there has been no attempt to orient parents at all to the transformations at work.”

Teachers say they are equally out of their depth. “At the teacher training, not everything was explained properly, and it was in the middle of the year. If the teachers are themselves ill-informed how can we guide the students?” said Crescent D’Souza, a class 9 teacher at St Xavier’s High School in Dhobi Talao. Class 9 teachers such as D’Souza are worried about a new rule that requires schools to pass all students up to class 8, while ensuring students are in the age-appropriate class and can avail themselves of additional help to make sure they are up to speed.

“If you pass all students won’t that mean that the level will go down?” asked Alka Shelly, principal of Chandaramji. “How can remedial teaching take place with classroom sizes up to 70?”

The upgradation of the maths and science syllabi for class 9 and above from this year, in line with the central boards, to help state students perform better in competitive exams, is another cause for concern. The benefits of the Best-Five scheme for class 10 students at the time of junior college admissions, fear some, could be undone by the demands of the new syllabus.

OPINION

Basanti Roy, educator and former secretary of the Maharashtra state board of secondary and higher secondary education’s Mumbai division

The Right To Education Act has prescribed that evaluation should be continuous and comprehensive, so accordingly, various changes were brought about by the state government.

These are very positive changes. Earlier, children were tested only on the basis of their memory -- they would reproduce what the text said. Now the evaluation pattern will measure other abilities, it will be a complete kind of evaluation. Students will be tested not only on written work but also on projects, discussions and participation in class and their other skills.

As this is the first year of change, there will be a natural fear and anxiety. But people need to understand that they have to give it some time. Teacher training is already taking place and a manual is being produced to serve as the guidelines for the changes. Teachers will have to adapt to the changes to keep pace with the times.

The upgradation of the classes 9 and 10 syllabi is also a good thing. State board students should be in an equivalent position when they compete against those from other boards.

As time progresses, we will know what the lacunae are or what needs to be done differently. We cannot know what will happen unless we try it out. Changes