I suddenly had a panic attack over the pongal weekend! During a casual conversation with a friend whose son studies in a CBSE ( Central Board of Secondary Education) school, I was informed that his school did not  offer Humanities or Social Science based subjects for specialization in classes XI and XII. All they offered were Science and Commerce group subjects. 

Patience- I will explain the reason for the panic in detail.... My daughter is studying in a school that is affiliated to the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education or the ICSE board. The school has started standards XI and XII about three years ago. affiliated to the Indian School Certificate examination system ( which is the 11th and 12th standard equivalent of the ICSE). However given the fact that they are just establishing themselves they are not very sure about the different combinations that they may be able to offer to the students until about a few months before the session begins. This is on account of the fact that they need a critical number of students before they decide the combination to be offered to students for that batch. They try their best to accommodate all interests but sometimes they are unable to adjust the timetable for this or find the required number of teachers. We are confident that the system will get streamlined over time but then time is something that we don’t have. 2013 is just a year away!

The city of Chennai has only two ISC schools ( why  I used to wonder but now I am  beginning to understand) . There used to be one more but this third school is at the moment having some internal problems relating to their infrastructure. . Therefore we have in reality ,only one more school to bank on.  The practical aspect I thought would be to understand what are the options available with the CBSE and the state board schools? Meanwhile, I continue to be quite uneasy about what my friend had to say about the CBSE schools in Chennai

Anyway, I kept a positive outlook to things and started searching the websites of all the prominent CBSE and State Board schools of Chennai to see what groups they offered at the XI and XIIth level. I was dismayed to find that none of them offered anything other than the Pure Science groups of  Maths/ Physics/ Chem/ Bio or Commerce subjects like Accountancy/ Commerce/ Economics / Business Studies!! So what happens to kids like my daughter who want to specialize in History, Sociology, Psychology or English Literature? I called a friend in Delhi to check if  the CBSE actually did not offer these subjects. She was baffled as to why I wanted to know because she knew atleast four children who had opted for groups like what my daughter was interested in! So, this was obviously a Chennai ( or Tamilnadu?)  thing!

I find this obsession with science education in this  state too much to handle! I  mean, are other subjects not worthy of being studied? What about children who find science  and Maths a burden? What alternatives does the education system in this city offer to them at the level when they can exercise the option of unburdening themselves? Is the next possible option only these commerce subjects where again there is a Maths Angle in Accountancy and Economics! And then there are kids like my daughter who have great potential in social sciences. Is there no way for them to excel at the XIth and XII th level by opening up an opportunity to study subjects which they love and would therefore score more marks in?

I remember there was a time when the Government of Tamil Nadu ( I think during Amma’s previous term in office) wanted to abolish English literature, History etc from the University level !

I am pained to see the way the market seems to be deciding knowledge options! What happened to knowledge for knowledge's sake? Commerce subjects are probably still being offered in this city because all these kids would become CA ( Chartered Accountancy) aspirants.

I firmly believe that the kids who opt for these two streams ( science and commerce) do so ,not because they actually want to but because they have been brainwashed into believing that these are the best options for them. Many of these children would struggle through their XIth and XII th standards coping with these subjects! They would then be again pushed into an engineering or medical college because Appa and Amma have saved the money to send them to one of the millions of private colleges offering these courses across the state- many kids who are unable to cope with science will continue to moan and groan  here also . But somehow or the other they would clear all their “arrears” and come out armed with a stethoscope to treat you and me or worse, join some engineering firm that manufactures  things where hopefully, any mistake in the manufacturing process would not have any major consequences for anyone! There are ofcourse the usual numbers who join the droves of “IT professionals” – what they do by way of work is something that I am still unsure of! I am told TCS/ Infosys and the rest of the big IT firms have to again teach them the ABC of what their expensively procured college seats did not!

There are again those burdened with the commerce group who will spend about a decade failing their various levels of CA exam till some of them decide to take a short cut and do a ICWA or a Course in Company Secretaryship. Please note that I am not suggesting in anyway that the ICWA or the CS are  inferior to the CA. What I am saying is that these courses are not often opted as the first choice..

Finally there would be  those who will try to escape all of this at the graduate stage by trying to do a course in “viz com”  or visual communication in the one and only Jesuit college or the dozen Vaishnav colleges in the city ! This is surprising because communication, like Development Studies is usually a course that needs to be studied at the post graduate level after one has had a sound grounding in some subject! I don’t know what these kids do after they finish up.. Join some local TV station I presume!

They say that there is a serious dearth of  people who are teachers! I understand the reason now. If all the students are going to become software engineers, plain engineers ( sounds like saada dosa/ masala dosa right?) or doctors or chartered accountants or some sort of a local TV channel host then who is going to come into the teaching profession? Who is going to specialize in a specific subject with a post graduate degree , go for a degree in education and come back to teach the next generation? I suppose, very soon this group would  become extinct! Somebody needs to seriously do a study on the “informal sector” around education to see how much money is spinning around in what is called the “private tuition” sector. Anybody I guess can become a tuition teacher!

When I was a little girl I remember my grandfather explaining to me the difference between the Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswathi. While Lakshmi Devi is the Goddess of wealth she cannot replace the Goddess of learning Saraswathi Devi.  Money and markets may go together but it is not right to equate knowledge and markets. Knowledge needs to be pursued for the sheer joy of learning. Educational institutions are expected to provide these opportunities.Besides, markets have two sides to them- demand and supply. The supply side for this demand is rather pathetic for the reasons mentioned earlier. So this kind of mediocre "over supply" is not going to get people to meet the demand.

 It is sad today that Gooddess Saraswathi plays her veena to the clang of the coins coming out of Goddess Lakshmi’s  pot!  It is not a chicken – egg situation. If there is a Humanities groups there will be children who will opt for it- not that no body opts for humanities so there is no need for a humanities group!  Negation of a body of knowledge is not the answer to this problem.


  1. "Gooddess Saraswathi plays her veena to the clang of the coins coming out of Goddess Lakshmi’s pot"
    your this statement says all.......

    yes, there is a general perception that its only worth if you are studying with science n maths and parents are more responsible for this......

  2. Economic aspects, which makes parents to encourage (force) kids to do 'engineering' and become a 'software engineer' will ultimately teach the lesson for the parents.

    Because, children will use this opportunity to settle abroad (US?) and forget about parents except during taking care of toddlers (where parents work as unpaid nannys). During the old age, when parents are staying alone (of course, some money comes in from abroad), they might regret the choices made earlier in their life. They will, but secretly.

    Of course, the situation of children is no better - Working as unskilled laborers (which is exactly what IT companies in India specialize in) may have their advantages today, but as they go on living in an alien land being discriminated against, they will then feel the burden of having opted for a course, only for economic reasons. They try to upgrade their skills later on, but the competition (especially abroad) is just too much and hence these people can never come out of their unskilled laborers tag. They live a menial life hoping that they could at least educate their children in the right way.

    Life is a circle. What goes around, comes back.

  3. Students are NOT the lone selectors, they have their parents,their colleagues and the whole neighborhood as chairman of selectors.
    and as the prev one saya, none studies for passion, most of the students are forced to take what they have and what they can pursue to BECOME SETTLED EARLIER AND EASIER !

  4. Meera,

    I am surprised to know this. I thought all was well in education sector. Now I think there is a need to do check in other states too to find if similar situation exists. We had let our children choose their own streams and they did well.

    Take care

  5. It is all demand and supply.Schools are run as business.Perhaps government schools can afford having humanities groups and they should.I heard my grand daughter telling me that her friend who wanted to pursue English literature had to take commerce group in school.Hope and wish things would change

  6. My daughter was not even interested in History, Geography, psychology etc., leave alone being interested in science or maths. She studied in the best CBSC school here in Bangalore and scored very good marks in all the so called relevant subjects,but she was fed of the school and its primary aim of coaching children to get into engineering/ medicine.
    One day, she came with me to visit my friend, and there she met her daughter who was doing a 5 year degree course in Art from a well known and established Art college, "Chitrakala Parishad", and she had joined it after finishing her 10th. That girl was interested in Textile designing, so after 2 years of studying compulsory art, and other subjects like Hindi, English etc., she could choose whatever she wanted to specialise for the next 3 years. She took up Textile as her subject of specialisation. One has lot of options, one can choose being a full artist, a muralist, sculpting or take up Applied arts which Advertising in that college.
    My daughter decided there and then that come what may she was going to that college only and specialise in Adevertising. Although she scored very good marks she wrote the entrance exam for joining that college and did 5 year degree course from there. Everybody was bugging us asking us was something wrong with us and our daughter? But we understood her point of view and now she is happy working as a Creative Director in O&M, she has many prestigious assignments to her credit, and she is earning more than an engineer/ doctor would earn at her age(she is 30).She also got a job while she was studying and later she didn't have to search for job, she just got another one with just word of mouth.She has been working for the last 9 years or so.
    The point we have to understand is that all professions have good scope if one puts one's mind to it, and be happy doing what they like to do in their life. Just imagine how miserable she would have been if she was somehow forced to do engineering or medicine.
    I truly believe you would find some way to let your daughter do whatever she wants to do in her life, and move away from tension and be happy in whatever line she chooses to be.Tell her I am with her 100%.

  7. Namaste:

    Unfortunately market trends will dictate education. There are other options open to your daughter though in terms of university. There are now high quality distance university education where the options of studying the humanities is still applicable. Distance education is fast becoming as reputable as universities you attend physically. Pretty soon it will be on par with. Though it may not be ideal for everyone many here opt for this form of education as it allows them to hold down full time jobs and study full time university courses from the comfort of their homes earning thsirselves a much in demand university degree.

    Just trying to shine a ray of hope into the worrisome trend that seems to sweeping Chennai and other regions.

    Have a blessed week

  8. The whole education system is like that in India so that you are influenced to make career choices and not choices of your passions and interests. I choose medicine because that would secure my future - to be honest, I am passionate about my work, but if I had choices I could have chosen history or anthropology .. If that was the situation at my time, 40 yrs ago, today is hundred times worse!

  9. Right on! Just when i was thinking of writing a post on this- you are spot on. I am trying to shift my children form an international school to a CBSE one. t is a disgrace that they have nothing to offer other than science and computer science stream. As for the quality of teachers- such a sorry state of affairs! My son's language fluency is far better than his english teachers'!!! Our education system definitely needs a change, but public need a change of mindset too...A plum job in cts or tcs remains their lifetime goal...

  10. Its the same everywhere, at least in Mumbai. My daughter is in JrKG...ICSE board...but to tell frankly I am not at all satisfied by their teaching. Even I wanted to take up Arts...and do Eng.Lit...but everyone brainwashed me...there is no money in that field...Tam-Brahm boy will not marry u...ohh GOD...that was a difficult phase.

    The education system itself is such that more imp is given to Science and then Commerce. People have a notion that only Science students are intelligent...all the others are useless.

    I wish if I could be the education minister one day....I would change so many things:D

  11. I can so relate to this post! The commerce and the science clans are so overrated! I wanted to take up humanities and study Literature, but wasn't allowed. In the 21st century! :O
    Loved when you wrote " Money and markets may go together but it is not right to equate knowledge and markets. Knowledge needs to be pursued for the sheer joy of learning."

  12. How much of a choice do children have in pursuing what interests them? For instance, I hated Hindi. I did not want to study Hindi but what alternatives did I have? None. Hindi was a compulsory subject in my school. If I had to graduate from school, I just had to learn Hindi. I saw my own children struggle in school with subjects they didn't particularly like. What could I do as a parent? Not much. Now with a market driven curriculum, educational institutions have become assembly lines producing the next generation of tech/biz-savvy adults. We will see an increasing disconnect between schools and the pursuit of knowledge.


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