A controversy erupted on Wednesday over the reduction of syllabus by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) due to COVID-19 situation, with the Opposition alleging that chapters on India's democracy and plurality are being 'dropped' to propagate a particular ideology, but the Board insisted it is a one-time measure for this academic year only and is not restricted to one subject as is being projected by some.
There was mixed response from various stakeholders as several school representatives welcomed the move to reduce the course load on children, while a section of academicians said it appeared to be ideologically driven.
Some others said it would affect the quality of education and will work against students, especially who have to appear in entrance exams.
The CBSE had announced that it had rationalised the syllabus for Classes 9 to 12 for the 2020-21 session by up to 30 per cent to make up for the academic loss caused due to COVID-19.
However, it was the decision to drop topics related to Social Sciences which drew sharp reaction from opposition parties like the Congress, Left, Trinamool Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena.
The Congress said removal of chapters on Federalism, Secularism, Nationalism and citizenship, which are the pillars of Indian democracy, is a crude joke on democracy and is highly condemnable.
Party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said it is unconstitutional and wondered if it is part of a 'bigger conspiracy'.
Singhvi also said that he would challenge the action in court in his individual capacity and not on behalf of the Congress.
"It is a crude joke and a wrong step and needs to be condemned. Federalism is the integral part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Federalism and secularism are institutional and non-institutional pillars of Indian Democracy.
"What message are you giving to our children if you say these words do not mean much," he said at a press conference.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury termed the CBSE move as 'atrocious' and 'unacceptable'.
'Using the pandemic, Modi government is deleting sections dealing with India's diversity, plurality, democracy etc that uphold our Constitutional values,' he tweeted.
He alleged that it is being done to advance the 'RSS vision of an exclusivist, theocratic, intolerant, fascistic nation. This is nothing but the destruction of our Constitution'.
Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said while reducing syllabus workload was a welcome, it should not become become an excuse to curtail different streams of thoughts.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also objected to the CBSE's decision to drop topics such as 'citizenship', 'federalism' and 'partition' .
She appealed to the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry not to curtail important lessons at any cost.
'Shocked to know that the Central Govt has dropped topics like Citizenship, Federalism, Secularism & Partition in the name of reducing CBSE course during #COVIDCrisis. We strongly object to this & appeal @HRDMinistry, GoI to ensure these vital lessons aren't curtailed at any cost,' Banerjee said in a tweet.
As a row erupted on the issue, the CBSE said the reduction of syllabus from classes 9 to 12 has been interpreted differently.
"Contrary to some of the impressions being created, it is clarified that the rationalization of syllabus up to 30 per cent has been undertaken for nearly 190 subjects for the academic session 2020-21 as a one-time measure only," CBSE Secretary Anurag Tripathi said.
The board claimed the objective of rationalisation is to reduce the exam stress of students due to the prevailing health emergency and prevent learning gaps. It asserted that no question shall be asked from the reduced syllabus in the board exams 2020-21 only.
"The schools have also been directed to follow the alternative academic calendar prepared by NCERT for transacting the curriculum.
"Therefore, each of the topics that have been wrongly portrayed as deleted have been covered under alternative academic calender which is already in force for all the affiliated schools of the board," Tripathi said.
Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said the CBSE should explain the rationale behind dropping certain chapters from the school curriculum.
"Social science is one discipline where there is maximum scope of controversy and I agree that no matter which topics are chosen or left out, the questions are bound to be raised.
"Hence the board should have been careful and explain its rationale for dropping certain topics," the Aam Aadmi Party leader said.
NCP spokesperson Mahesh Tapase said the saffron party might even 'rewrite history' in future.
Bahujan Samaj Party leader Kunwar Danish Ali took a dig at the human resource development ministry saying it wants education based on 'WhatsApp university' forwards.
Universities and schools across the country are closed since March 16 when the Centre announced a classroom shutdown as a measure to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
A nationwide lockdown came into effect on March 25.
While the government has eased several restrictions, schools and colleges remain closed, though many are having online classes.
The HRD Ministry had announced in May that the syllabus will be reduced for the next academic session to reduce burden on students due to learning disruption caused by closure of schools because of COVID-19.
Concerns over course load were raised by parents, who put out online petitions on the issue.
The HRD Ministry maintained that the curriculum has been rationalised while retaining core elements.
"As great a tool as online education is, it comes with certain limitations, and I believe that the reduction of syllabus is a fair move as many students who live in rural, underprivileged areas, were deprived of education because they did not have access to gadgets, power supply, and sufficient bandwidth - which are the prerequisites of online education," said Alka Kapoor, Principal, Modern Public School, Shalimar Bagh.
Reduction of syllabus makes sense in that regard, she said.
A representative of DAV Public School, Gurgaon, said,"Rationalisation of syllabus is a welcome move".
"The board has not barred us from teaching the dropped chapters it is just that students won't be evaluated for those chapters. Classroom teaching cannot completely be taken over by alternative methods, reduction in syllabus was very much needed," the representative said.
The students appearing in the CBSE board exams next year will not be required to study about secularism, citizenship, nationalism, demonetisation and democratic rights as the chapters dealing with these subjects, along with several other chapters, have been dropped from the syllabus to reduce the course load for students amid the coronavirus crisis.
The revised Physics syllabus for Class 11 omitted portions from Newton's Laws of Motion, Kepler's law of planetary motion and the Doppler effect in waves, while chapters on anatomy and morphology of flowering plants have been dropped from the Biology syllabus.
Other significant omissions from class 12 science syllabus include Kepler's Law of planetary motion and radioactivity including alpha, beta and gamma particle rays and their properties.
Teachers have expressed concern that the reduction in science syllabus will not only affect the students' understanding of key concepts but also impact them when they attempt entrance exams such as the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for engineering colleges and National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) for medical colleges.