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Shakespeare versus science in ISC
Plea to lighten English burden

Macbeth and Pygmalion are competing with math and physics for the undivided attention of ISC students focused on science, leaving schools in a dilemma over the otherwise highly regarded plus-two English syllabus.

Many school principals, teachers and students have written to the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations about the ISC English syllabus being so demanding that studies in the other subjects are being affected, particularly math, physics, chemistry and biology.

“English at the ISC level is a double-edged sword. It is a comprehensive syllabus, including William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Hardy. The flip side is that it requires more attention than students can afford to give if they are to do well in the other subjects as well, especially in the science stream,” said a veteran teacher.

English is taught as a first language in every ISC school and is compulsory for all students, irrespective of the stream they are in.

One of the suggestions is to trim the course material — some say Shakespeare should be first on the chopping block — to make it easier for students to cope with the subject without compromising on their other studies.

“The ISC English syllabus needs to be pruned, especially for the sake of students preparing for all-India competitive exams like the IIT-JEE. Their studies are being affected by the accent on English,” said Dora Banerjee, principal of Bhawanipur Gujarati Education Society School.

Academicians say that if not reduce the burden, the council should consider bifurcating the English syllabus.

“The existing system of evaluating students in English based on the entire course material for classes XI and XII is a burden on them. They would be better off if the Class XII final exam didn’t have questions from what was taught the previous year,” said a teacher of a south Calcutta school.

Shakespeare poses a problem not only for the students but also for schools that don’t have teachers qualified to demystify the Bard in unabridged form for beginners.

The current syllabus has Macbeth, Shaw’s Pygmalion and Hardy’s novel The Mayor of Casterbridge along with a collection of essays.

The two papers — language and literature — carry 100 marks each with students required to answer one compulsory question on Macbeth or Pygmalion and four more based on at least three of the prescribed texts, which could include Shakespeare and Shaw in a particular year.

Apart from the classics, the prescribed texts include a book of poems and a compilation of short stories.

“Nobody doubts that the ISC English syllabus is the best. But now that ISC schools have spread to small towns, we feel a syllabus as tough as this is not suitable for students who might not have been exposed to the best standards of English teaching in their early years,” a source in the council said.

In CBSE plus-two, students need to write one English paper, which helps those preparing for competitive exams to focus on their subjects of choice. In Higher Secondary too, English is taught as a second language in most schools and students are required to write a lone paper.

“Students need to have a focussed approach to be able to crack competitive exams. Those in ISC have to devote so much time to English that their preparations in the subjects that might determine their careers suffer,” a teacher said.

Sanchita Bose, principal of Mahavir Institute of Education and Research, suggested segregating the syllabus rather than snipping off Shakespeare or Shaw.

“English being the pillar of the ISC course, we should not dilute the syllabus by reducing the content. We can retain our standards and yet reduce the pressure on students if we test them on the basis of the Class XII syllabus,” Bose said. “We will soon send our suggestions to the council.”

Gerry Arathoon, chief executive and secretary of the council, said there was no plan to scrap Shakespeare or bifurcate the English syllabus. “We have only requested the heads of all affiliated schools to give us their feedback on various issues, including the ISC curriculum. The other topics are examinations, administration, training programmes and affiliation. Individual responses are awaited.”