ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A False Dilemma

Forcing students to choose from among arts, science or commerce as early as class 11 is flawed for both intellectual and practical reasons.

Every summer, millions of 15- and 16-year-olds across India entering class 11 must choose a disciplinary stream. Their choices are often highly constrained by family needs and desires, peer pressure and societal expectations. But even children whose families allow them to pursue what they love face another limiting factor. The plus-two system offers them a choice of only three fixed streams of study: science, commerce and what we in India call “arts,” which includes humanities and social studies. In the face of this, our children’s and-s turn to or-s. A student loves history and mathematics, but has to choose one or the other. Another loves literature and biology, but will have to give up one to keep the other. In short, at age 15 and 16, they already have to decide what kind of a mind they want to develop: humanistic, scientific or commercial!

This is not a happy state of affairs. For one, 15- and 16-year-olds are too young to be making these decisions. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a researcher of adolescent cognition and neuroscience at University College London, told policymakers in the United Kingdom in 2014 that they should wait till students are 18 before expecting them to make choices that could significantly determine their futures. Adolescent brains are still developing in those areas responsible for weighing pros and cons and for gauging the long-term consequences of decisions. Blakemore suggests we allow students to “keep their options open” for longer, by following a curriculum more like the International Baccalaureate, orIB, which allows students to choose subjects from different streams and which some elite schools in India offer.

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Updated On : 2nd Jun, 2017

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