Status of Social Sciences in Senior Secondary Schools: A Case Study from Agra.
Abstract: It is widely recognised that social sciences are facing a serious crisis in current education scenario in the country. However the senior secondary level of education, which is a very important forum to assess education practices, has been widely unaddressed in this regard. The importance of social sciences cannot be estimated by a mere comparison of their popularity and demand with that of other subjects. The contributions of social sciences go beyond professional prospects, to affecting significantly the social and political discourse of a society. This article therefore tries to understand the status of these subjects at the senior secondary level, through an empirical case study of Agra district, to understand the impact and viability of these subjects in a socio-political context.
Social Sciences are facing a serious crisis in India. Not least of its problems is that those who are looking into this crisis are mostly addressing it at the higher education level while leaving the senior secondary education scenario untouched and unremedied, except for maybe a little disconnected and scattered journalistic coverage from different cities. The senior secondary level of education is the first real and substantial platform for testing the viability and impact of social sciences as subjects of study. This is firstly because not all who complete their higher secondary education move on to graduate or post graduate studies or higher and therefore the scope of any problem being addressed in the education system is much greater and substantial at the senior secondary level than at the higher level. Secondly, after high school education those who continue to study at the intermediate level, for the first time face the choice of subjects between various ‘streams’ of science, commerce and humanities. Thus even though senior secondary level registers lesser enrolment than the secondary level, yet the real test of viability of social sciences or any subject for that matter presents itself at this level. Thirdly, most students who enter intermediate level border on becoming adults soon, at an age where they are to be responsible in various ways, socially, professionally and otherwise. The kind of education they receive at this stage plays a direct role in laying the foundation for their political perspective and social sensitisation to various issues.
Therefore this article aims to look at the status of social sciences at the senior secondary level of education by taking up a case study of higher secondary schools affiliated to two national boards of secondary education, Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Council of Indian Secondary Education (CISCE, also known as ISC or ICSE) in the Agra district of Uttar Pradesh. The three dimensions that have been laid out above shall be looked at through a quantitative as well as a qualitative analysis of various statistics and figures that emerge out of this case study.
For this case study a total of 55 schools were found in the district, affiliated to CBSE and ISC boards. Schools affiliated to the state education board were not included to keep the scope of the study in national perspective. Out of the 55, nine schools are affiliated with the CISCE board and rest 46 are affiliated with the CBSE board. For CBSE board alone roughly 12000 students had appeared for class 12 examinations for academic year 2012from Agra district. Add to it the students who appeared for the CISCE board and one understands the magnitude of scope of senior secondary level of education.
Information was collected from 50 of these schools based on the availability and access to data. The five schools which were left out are all affiliated to CBSE. All of the schools reported offering science subjects as electives and except for one rest 49 have commerce subjects to offer as well. As for humanities subjects only four schools have been offering these courses for class 12 electives alongside science and commerce streams. The only other group of subjects which is lesser represented than humanities is vocational stream which is offered in only one school.
The focus of this study is upon social sciences which are offered under the head of the humanities stream. These include Political Science, Economics, Sociology, Geography, Psychology and History. The aim of this article shall be to understand the various factors behind the very low percentage of schools offering social sciences subjects at the senior secondary level. These factors shall include sociological, socio-economic, organisational as well as structural. The other part of this endeavour shall be to provide a contextual and at the same time a conceptual understanding of the relevance and at the same time the sustainability of social sciences with the help of the inferences drawn from the case study.
As already stated 100% of schools in the district have science subjects to offer at senior secondary level, while 98% of schools have commerce subjects as electives. As for humanities which include social sciences, only eight percent of the schools reported offering these subjects at the senior secondary level. None of the ISC schools have been offering these courses. The fact that some of the presently ISC affiliated schools have been running since the colonial times and have yet failed to provide a more holistic curriculum at the senior secondary level which includes social sciences, indicates the diminished value assigned to these subjects. The correlation between the colonial legacy of some of these schools and the complete absence of social sciences from their curriculum at the senior secondary level, points out to the probable continuation of the education policy of limiting the scope of social sciences in Indian schools prevalent since colonial times.
The CBSE schools do not fare much better. As is evident from the statistics only nine percent of these schools have included these subjects in the class 12 curriculum. This means that for the roughly 12000 students who had appeared for class 12 examination from CBSE board a mere 64 students had opted for social sciences which adds up to 0.5%, a share so low that if represented on a pie chart it would be an unidentifiable slice.
The first school to have offered these subjects among the 50 schools was Kendriya Vidyalaya in the year 1963. Although two more Kendriya Vidyalaya opened up later in the district, but these schools did not offer the humanities stream in class 12. The next three schools which began offering these courses did so towards the beginning of the 2000’s and thereafter in the following years. It cannot be deduced from this that the social sciences made some sort of comeback on the agenda of senior secondary schools in the district after about thirty years. In fact since 1963 a total of 41 schools, the present study reveals, opened up in the city which did not offer these subjects.
As far as the schools affiliated to national boards are considered, most are run by private organisations which include local education groups or non-local education organisations. The latter include education societies, central organisations, private groups and religious missionaries. As this case study reveals, schools run by missionaries and other religious organisations have failed to look beyond commerce and science subjects for the class 12 curriculum. The other non-local private bodies i.e. educations societies and private groups do provide more options in electives which include social sciences as well. Out of the four schools which offer humanities stream one is run by the central authority of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, one is run by a local group while the other two are run by non-local education societies.
Thus far we have looked at the composite picture of the senior secondary schools in the district. Now we shall look at those four schools specifically which offer humanities stream. These were approached with a survey questionnaire to collect some basic statistics regarding their humanities wing.
As already mentioned a total of 64 students had enrolled in the humanities stream in the four schools put together in the last academic session. This number is extremely small when compared to the rough estimate of total students who appeared for the CBSE board examination alone. Within the four schools under scrutiny a total of 645 students had appeared for twelfth board examinations under different streams, thus making the percentage of student enrolment in humanities nine percent for these four schools. The percentage for science students for the same four schools remains at 50.7% while for commerce students at 39.3%. At the same time the median average percentage of the humanities enrolment per school was observed at 11.4%. The median average corrects for the occurrence of the really low enrolment in one of the schools and shows that in most cases 11% students have been inclined to take up humanities subjects in each of the schools which have offered these subjects. The mean as well as the median average both point out that it is not that the students are averse to opting for social sciences or humanities subjects in general but the lack of schools (albeit those affiliated to national boards) offering these subjects, which is the reason for an extremely dismal percentage of enrolment in them. There is probable reason to believe that if more schools were to begin offering these subjects, the average percentage of students likely to opt for them could go even higher since proximity is an important factor in determining the choice of schools and students are discouraged to opt for the subjects that are not offered in the nearby schools.
The National Curriculum Framework 2005 (NCF) has recommended that, “schools could consider working out arrangements with other schools in the neighbourhood so that they could employ a resource teacher together. Such resource teachers could also be employed at the block level to teach such special subjects that would not otherwise be available in a school”. When asked from the four schools covered in this study, if any other schools had approached them asking for collaboration on the humanities subject offered in these schools, three of them answered in negative while one school could not avail the information. Moreover none of the schools contacted were aware about this recommendation from the NCF.
The NCF also expresses concern over the “formal or informal restrictions that operate to narrow the choice of subjects of study for students”, namely clubbing of subjects into different streams like arts, science and commerce, yet as already stated all the 50 schools approached for this study were found doing the same. Moreover many schools have been found to be combining the science options under engineering and medical streams of subjects. This shows, how vulnerable has school education become to the expectations of certain professional courses of study at the higher level, thus eliminating all possibilities of students receiving a diverse academic experience at the senior secondary level and subsequently at the higher level as well.
When asked if any of the students from a different stream opt for any electives from other ones, the answer was negative for all respondents. As for social sciences, economics is the only subject which is common between the commerce and the humanities streams and therefore was offered in all schools which had commerce or humanities stream. This makes this subject the most well represented subject out of all the social sciences in the district. However having been clubbed along with commerce subjects, economics runs the risk of being perceived as mainly a commerce subject and not a subject of humanities. Does this clubbing together of the subject along with a particular group of subject affect the emphasis of the subject course material and style of teaching in one way or another is an important point to investigate which shall also comment upon the present status of the discipline in the country. As for other subjects, history finds its place in the curriculum in all the four schools and is thus the second most represented social science subject while geography and political science are offered in two schools each. Sociology and psychology remain unoffered in any school thus making them both the least represented among the social sciences.
Based on the data collected from these schools, the passing percentage of students in the humanities stream were found to be 100% for two of the schools and 98.3% for one, while no data was available for the one other. As for the highest marks scored from all the four schools in the stream, the highest was as high as 96.2%, while the lowest was 77.8%. The median average of the highest percentage secured in the four schools was 88.1%. What is noticeable is that the school with the lowest average marks as well as the lowest highest percentage scored by students in humanities stream is the one which provides only one optional among social sciences which is exclusive to humanities section and that is history, (economics being common between humanities and commerce). The observation is complemented by the fact that out of all the respondent schools, this particular school has the least number of teachers employed for the humanities stream.
The premise with which this article began was that social sciences are in a serious crisis and that the appropriate forum to address this crisis is at the senior secondary level due to a greater enrolment of students at this level than at the higher levels of education. At the same time it was also suggested at the beginning that the viability of social sciences can be best measured at this level on account of the size of enrolment as well as the option for choice of subjects being introduced at this level for the first time. Through the observations from this case study we notice that both these propositions hold some substance.
Out of the total number of students who appeared for class 12 examinations in the last academic year a mere 0.5% had opted for humanities stream. At the same time only eight percent of the schools were reported offering these subjects at all. The debatable point here is then, whether it is the lesser demand for these subjects among students which leads to a smaller percentage of schools offering these subjects or is it the other way around. As we have observed, the median average of students who opt for these subject among the four schools is 11.4%. This percentage is more than ten times higher than the total district average. This shows that a sizeable amount of students do wish to take up these subjects, but since about 81% of the schools do not offer them, the students are left with no choice which in turn affects the district average.
This is an organisational factor which underpins the crisis of social sciences. Despite the recommendations from the NCF suggesting the need for a diverse curriculum for optional subjects at the senior secondary level the two national boards on their part have not contributed to check this underrepresentation of the subjects. While the CISCE schools in the district have completely given up on these subjects, the CBSE board schools too only do marginally better. Another recommendation which NCF makes regarding doing away with the practice of clubbing subjects into streams and instead providing open access to diverse combinations of subjects remains unheeded as most schools are found offering these subjects in forms of streams thus artificially restricting the choices of students. The national boards should make greater efforts to implement the recommendations of the National Curriculum Framework. Merely granting affiliations to schools should not be their only priority but ensuring that schools affiliated provide better standards of education in sync with the National Education Policy and a wider representation of different subjects in school curriculum.
Even in case of schools which do offer these subjects, the quality of options given to students matters in their performance as is evident from the study. For all the schools with humanities stream which had a wide range of electives, the students from this stream have performed well. Even through the course of this study a common misperception surfaced, even amongst the teaching faculty that mostly academically weaker students opt for the humanities stream. As we have observed in this study the highest percentage for the stream in the district for CBSE results went as high as 96.2% and the median average of the highest percentages secured in the four schools was 88.1%. This certainly busts the myth of academic weakness associated with students of arts and humanities.
Another trend that can be gathered from this study is that most schools which are a unit of non-religious education groups and run schools in multiple locations provide more options in senior secondary curriculum. This is probably in keeping with the standards that these groups or organisations have maintained across various units that they run elsewhere. Thus the standardisation of senior secondary education not only provides exposure to newer academic options and avenues but also gives options to students whose aptitude and interest lie in social sciences or other subjects of humanities. Although educationists have their doubts regarding centralisation of education system on grounds of the threats posed to local and vernacular values to be inculcated through the curriculum as well as commercialisation of education, the observations in this study regarding the various locally run schools indicate that the concerns of these schools are far from mobilising the vernacular or local concerns and are more in tune with the popular mainstream demands for science and commerce subjects which are perceived as beneficial for future job prospects and economic well being. This perception also stems from a lack of exposure for students to information regarding newer options in employment in social sector, academic research as well as other professions related to social sciences.
As for the subjects being offered in the humanities stream which fall under the social sciences, one finds that while economics is opted by both the students of humanities as well as commerce, other subjects do not find as much representation.
The education system especially at the senior secondary level is extremely vulnerable to profit incentives. As science and commerce subjects are perceived as guarantees to better job prospects, they remain more popular. The trend is much more obvious for science stream since certain schools were found going as far as offering science subjects under engineering and medical streams. The NCF too acknowledges this trend and remains extremely worried about this trend of schools falling prey to the demands of certain professional subjects offered at the higher levels of education.
The study shows that non-local education groups which run schools in more than one state and are not affiliated to any religious organisation tend to provide greater choice to students. The value of social sciences according to local perceptions is underrated but this does not seem to affect the education organisations from outside the district in providing access to these subjects.
The national boards should make greater efforts to ensure that a booming education sector whence new schools are mushrooming everywhere do not reduce school education to a mere profit making venture. Schools should be encouraged to adopt social sciences at the senior secondary level to ensure that these subjects do not languish behind other subjects.
The other premise which the article began with is about how the lack of enrolment in social sciences at the senior secondary level affects the socio-political scenario. To understand this we must understand in what ways does the group of subjects known as social sciences achieve the end of citizenship education. One of the aspects, which has been discussed earlier, is the colonial notion of citizenship training achieved through subjects such as civics. The NCF has advised to replace this subject at the secondary level with political science precisely to encourage the formation of “sensitive, interrogative, deliberative and transformative citizens” instead of merely promoting “obedience and loyalty”. The post colonial state on the other hand too runs a risk of limiting the scope of school curricula to merely becoming a pedagogic tool in the hands of the state.
The other aspect of citizenship education relates to a less axiomatic and a more discursive function of education. The Secondary Education Commission (1952) envisioned citizenship as being able to promote “understanding and the intellectual integrity to sift truth from falsehood, facts from propaganda and to reject the dangerous appeal of fanaticism and prejudice”. To not be vulnerable to propaganda, falsehood, fanaticism and prejudice an individual requires an ability to critically explore and question familiar social reality. This requires education to perform the functions of sensitisation and also a multi-paradigmatic study of social reality. Both these functions are an integral part of the process of construction of an individual’s frame of reference. The overlapping of the frames of reference of different individuals or the incongruence between them determines how one takes part in the social and political discourses. Talking in terms of communication theory, an individual might receive those political or social messages favourably which “give a boost to… self image” and reject or misinterpret those which “threaten that same image”, thus resulting in “communication selectivity”. The misinterpretation or rejection of contradictory discourse to one’s perspective can be described as a “psychological barrier of communication”. It is here that the social sciences, which deal with subject matter of everyday social reality, build an individual’s frame of reference which is not only informed and educated by the foundational concepts and definitions of social sciences but is also receptive to diverse and, more importantly, lesser represented perspectives in society.
Such a frame of reference is ideally also equipped to engage in a critical enquiry of social processes and not plainly accept the prevalent discourse as given and final. Contextualising the findings of this study, more than 99% of students at the senior secondary level in the Agra district who study from national education boards are not provided with an education in social sciences. These students may include either those who study only up to this level and then leave education for alternate careers or those who have been educated in science and commerce streams and continue to do so in these streams at the higher level. In either case, the frame of reference of these students shall remain educated by social science education only at that of the secondary level (class 10 curricula). The lack of choice of taking up diverse combinations of subjects leads them to be either desensitised to many social issues which could have been otherwise taught to them as part of their formal education or are informed, (through various communication media such as mass media, everyday informal interactions etc.), in a single paradigmatic socio-political perspective. These students run the risk of not being exposed to diverse viewpoints especially those of the historically underrepresented, discriminated against or exploited sections of society. In such a scenario it is unreasonable to expect that these prospective adults could adopt a social perspective which is empathetic and at the same time non-axiomatic.
The point regarding the frame of reference also ties up with the lack of enrolment at the senior secondary level in social sciences as observed in this study. Social sciences are not a traditionally popular group of subjects. Without an academic exposure to these subjects and to the future possibilities in their pursuance it is difficult to imagine that the enrolment in these subjects would increase. It is a vicious cycle where lack of schools offering these subjects leads to a lack of awareness and interest in these subjects which again adversely affects the enrolment and demand for the subjects. It then becomes incumbent upon the national education boards to make special provisions for the introduction and spread of awareness about these subjects. Moreover steps should be taken to ensure that subjects are not clubbed together as streams merely and a diverse combination of subjects should be open for students.
What can be said conclusively from this study is that education at the school level needs an urgent transformation where subjects are not pitted against each other on the criteria of demand and popularity. The lack of interdisciplinary approach in education is rooted right from the senior secondary level due to compartmentalisation of subjects in streams. The viability of social sciences should not be gauzed by the enrolment statistics or how many schools are willing to offer them because as we have seen in this study, given a chance there are many takers for the lesser represented social sciences as well. There is a fast expanding social sector as well as an increasing collaboration at the higher education level between different streams of subjects including humanities. But more importantly social sciences are valuable owing to their contribution to the processes of social education and sensitisation in society. This value overrides all other concerns especially today when the limitations of a purely economic perspective of development are being acknowledged and this view is giving way to one that values translation of economic growth into a better human development index.
 A few examples of the journalistic coverage on the issue can be found in Indian Express (Chandigarh), , The Hindu (Kochi), Times of India (Gurgaon). These articles all cover different cities from different viewpoints but fail to provide a structural analysis on the issue. (Jha 2011; Rajagopal 2007; Sharma 2013)
 The lists of senior secondary schools affiliated to CBSE and CISCE boards were retrieved from their respective websites- “E-affiliation”: CBSE, Viewed on 17 Oct. 2013 (http://188.8.131.52/SchoolDir/userview.aspx); “Locate a Council Affiliated School”: CISCE, Viewed on 17 Oct. 2013(http://cisce.azurewebsites.net/locate-search.aspx)
 Information accessed from I next- Jagran (Hindi). “Cbse main ab boys rahe age”: inext live, 28 May 2012, Viewed on 2 Nov 2013 (http://inextlive.jagran.com/cbse-main-ab-boys-rahe-aage-201205280043)
 The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 illustrates the colonial administration’s emphasis on the subject of civics in order to foster loyalty and obedience within Indian subjects, to counter which the NCF suggests replacing it with political science. Although now civics is taught only at the secondary level but the complete omission of social sciences from the senior secondary level in these schools indicates a similar attitude towards social sciences as witnessed in the colonial education policy. (NCERT 2005: 51)
 The term local education group refers to locally owned business groups, charities or trusts which own and run educational institutions with one or more units in the district but not outside of it.
 The two schools mentioned here are the Delhi Public School, Agra run by the Delhi Public School Family and the Army Public School, Agra run by the Army Welfare Education Society. Both these societies are registered under the Societies Registration Act XXI, 1860.