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The CBSE Curriculum : Balance Academic Rigor With Pedagogical Trends? – Part 1


This article is the second in the series with special focus on Boards of Education and their respective Curriculum frameworks. You can find the first in the series here.

“OK, I’ve gone through the sites and I’m overloaded with information. What next?”

The last article informed the reader of the many available Boards of Educations’ (hereafter referred to as BoE) and the resulting confusion from too much choice. This article focuses and digs deep into the many facets of a popular BoE- The Central Board of Secondary Education or the CBSE curriculum.

What should you know about the CBSE curriculum?

CBSE-Board-ExamWith an all India coverage of officially affiliated schools estimated at 21,478, CBSE schools are second in number only to state-affiliated schools. The CBSE curriculum is anchored by the National Curriculum Framework 2005 (hereafter NCF 2005) that provides a blueprint with a set of guiding principles with a prescribed pedagogical approach.

The official CBSE website, on the other hand, lays down the nuts and bolts of CBSE syllabi from elementary to high school. The information on their site is exhaustive and best of all, available for the general public. A simple click on “curriculum and framework” releases a flood of information, possibly meaningful only to teachers and administrators. Curious parents would be wise to stick to NCF 2005, rather than the muddled learning indicators put out by the CBSE curriculum to get a feel of the foundational  philosophy and principles which are a unique and thoughtful blend of the fundamental rights as enshrined in the Indian constitution and the RtE Act 2009.

The curriculum and curricular materials.

Having said that, any educational policy or Act is only as good as its implementation. The CBSE curriculum tries to balance a secular school educational framework with latest content that conforms to child developmental stages. It succeeds…upto a point.The curriculum is still quite rooted in print material with very limited scope for e-learning. The assessment structure too is behind the times with a focus on copious writing in languages, social sciences and points for neatly maintained notebooks in all subjects.

Also Read: Choosing The Right Curriculum & Board of Education That Will Truly Serve The Child

Coming to the subjects, CBSE curriculum follows the 3 language policy until the 8th class namely, English(for schools with English as the medium of instruction), 2nd language (Hindi for Indian nationals), and 3rd language (regional), math, sciences, social sciences and computers/computer languages. The content for 2nd and 3rd language is rigorous but not so for English which considerably lags behind international standards. Math in particular is comprehensive and vast which concentrates more on Geometry in higher classes. Social studies/Social sciences syllabus comprising of History, Civics and Geography is also immense and covers heavy concepts like “Marginalisation”, for example, in class 8 civics didactically causing a general dislike of those subjects.

What skills are emphasized by the curriculum?

All in all, the curriculum content relies on regurgitation of information rather than analysis and synthesis. Although the CBSE teachers I’ve known personally insist that HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) are included as a part of learning and assessment; I’m not entirely convinced. Recall seems to be the bedrock of CBSE curriculum content for the languages, social sciences and upto a certain degree, even the sciences.

A cursory glance through the sample question papers of class 10 science, for instance, shows a very high number of questions testing memorisation skills. Sections A and B and a significant portion of section C and D can be considered entirely dependent on recall because they are descriptive in nature rather than analytical. In subjects like social sciences, how much content one can hold in memory becomes crucial for 5 mark descriptive questions like “Describe the impact of great depression on Indian economy”. Mathematics seems to be the only stand-out with a balance of theory and application.

Which brings us to the next part: The cost, quality, availability of CBSE curricular material.

Given the rising cost of textbooks, CBSE stands apart from other BoEs by offering free download of all NCERT textbooks across all levels. Supplementary material like exemplar problems from class 6 to 12 found here or the model question papers available here is also easily accessible through the NCERT site.

Also Read: 4 Afterschooling Principles You Should Follow To Ensure Success In School

For those that prefer printed books, physical copies of the online NCERT textbooks are available at very reasonable costs in the market. Although, that cost comes at a price (see what I did there?) The paper quality and binding is abysmal and riddled with typographical errors and inconsistencies.

How can parents know if the child is on track?

Sit back with a cup of tea or coffee, if you will, and go down the brightly colored, parent friendly NCERT poster  describing the prescribed and expected learning outcomes at each grade (Hereafter ELO’s) and/or the more structured, formal report presumably targeted at teachers and administrators. Ideally, both documents should have outcomes that align perfectly at each level without any discrepancy. But, I would suggest going through both the links and verifying for yourself.

Note that schools don’t necessarily follow the prescribed ELO’s to the T. Many highly academic schools pride themselves in staying one, two or three steps ahead of the ELO’s by either using the most rigorous textbooks available for a subject/class or using the prescribed NCERT textbooks but assessing students at a level ahead of their assigned class.

Why are these super formal and dry documents important for a CBSE parent?

Because information is power and because you, as a parent and guardian, should be aware of the learning outcomes, measured through assessments, at every level/grade/standard. CBSE assessment framework is complex and tries to (often to mixed results) include behavioural aspects of schooling too.

Stay tuned for part 2 in CBSE series which will go deeper into the curriculum and assessment framework, CBSE teacher competencies and school infrastructure.

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