Why 20th century syllabus in 21st century education?

Rajesh Kumar Thakur

Education should be like a flowing river. Continuous changes in the syllabus, adopting modern tools, walking with the world and moving ahead is necessary. Merely reading the textbook, learning questions and answers and getting a perfect score should not be the goal of education. The world is changing very fast and one needs to keep pace with the changing times. Unfortunately, governing bodies in the education sector do not take these frequent changes into consideration when developing the curriculum, as a result the information passed on to students is outdated and we end up with generations of students who have their degrees but no knowledge of how to compete with their peers around the world. Even after 75 years of independence, we are still following Macauley’s education system.

Present situation of learning

We are living in the 21st century, where education is not imparted only in closed spaces called school; students today learn through different modes. The Internet plays a big role as thousands of authentic websites, animated videos, YouTube channels, etc., become the source of e-learning. Many educational portals are available, where learners can learn 24 by 7. With the emergence of technology, learning is not limited to books and yet we are holding on to old systems.

Another cause for concern are our government schools. Above 65% of the children are enrolled in government schools and most of them are poor. Infrastructure is pathetic in most government schools across India. Students don’t have access to classrooms, toilets and other basic amenities. Most of them have a single teacher catering to the needs of students from classes 1 to 5. The pupil-teacher ratio in such cases is alarming, sometimes 1: 100 or 200 as against the 1: 40 prescribed by the government. In such situations, one can’t expect quality education. COVID-19 has only worsened this situation. While decisions were taken to move schools online, teachers were not trained to teach in this mode and students didn’t have access to smart phones and wi-fi. In the last year and a half, education has taken a back seat. The learning gap is now even now more evident. The situation will be alarming when schools finally do reopen. Little kids sitting at home all these months have had little or no writing or arithmetic practice despite government initiatives.

The findings of an ASER report* are alarming. It depicts that almost no children aged 4 and 5 can read a standard 1 textbook. Shockingly, only 4.1% of standard 1 students can recognize 2-digit numbers; according to NCERT a child in standard 1 should recognize numbers up to 99. Students of standard 4 couldn’t do simple subtraction and division of two digit numbers. Where is education headed in this country?

The situation is even more alarming at the secondary level because students get promoted up to class 8 and when they reach class 9 fail to cope and finally drop out.

How to improve the situation

‘Education for All’ must be the motto of governments. Mathematical thinking and scientific temper should be part of all curriculum. It should be all encompassing, suitable to students on either extreme of the learning curve. Any new discoveries and innovative research ideas should be an integral part of the syllabus. There should be a logical flow of lessons as students move from one class to the next. Irrelevant topics should be deleted. But in the name of reducing student burden, important lessons should not be deleted either. For example, the chapter ‘Heat’ in science has now been removed from class 9 and 10, ‘Metallurgy’ has been reduced. Topics like ‘Fibre Fabric’ have not been updated for long. In agriculture, modern tools used to produce good crops still don’t find a mention. Diseases like cancer also don’t find the space they deserve.

There is a lot of difference between getting a degree and getting knowledge. A student with only a degree cannot compete with a student with sound knowledge. We need to understand the fact that knowledge is supreme and a knowledgeable person with minimal degree but exceptional class needs to be brought into the mainstream.

Coming to mathematics, Pi is still irrational in class 9, at least the publisher should put a note in the textbook that pi is a transcendental number. Logarithms, Quadratic Equation, Harmonic Progression, Binary Number System, Taxation and Banking, Properties and Solution of Triangles, Dynamics, Statics, Triple Vector product, etc., have all been removed from the 10 -12th syllabus, despite them being relevant to understanding mathematics. Even Shifting the Origin, Pair of Straight Lines, Family of Circles in two-dimensional geometry and Cone, Cylinder and Sphere in 3-dimensional geometry have been removed from class 11 and 12 syllabus over the last 10 years, making mathematics an insipid subject in senior secondary school.

A brief note in each chapter describing the importance of the chapter, linking them with other subjects, critical thinking questions, etc., should be introduced so that students can upgrade their skills. Math laboratories should be an integral part of schools to develop mathematical thinking.


There is a need to modernize the educational system. One can enjoy learning if an effort is made to link the subject to daily life. Marks and degree are not the end of education. All stakeholders need to understand the importance of global education so that our students can stand on their own at the global level. I’d like to end the article quoting J B S Haldane to highlight the issue of the Indian education system in the present.

Today in India Ramanujan could not get even a lectureship in a rural College because he had no degree. Much less could he get a post through UPSC. The fact is a disgrace to India. I am aware that he was offered a Chair in India after becoming a FRS. But it is scandalous that India’s Great men should have to wait for foreign recognition. If Ramanujan’s work had been recognized in India as early as it was in England, he might never have emigrated and might have been alive today.


Reference: –

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_India

2. http://www.asercentre.org//p/359.html

The author is Assistant Professor, SCERT Delhi (DIET Daryaganj). He can be reached at rkthakur1974@gmail.com

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