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Monday, December 22, 2014

Can I study History in 11th class?

My daughter is in 10th class, and a few months ago, we asked her what she would like to study in the 11th class. And she replied with the question that is the title of this blog.

It seems a simple enough question with a simple, obvious answer. Of course, you should study what interests you. And we have seen her interest in history. I can sit with her and watch history videos on Khan Academy. She had attended all lectures given by the famous historian and indologist, Michel Danino, who visited IIT Kanpur for the previous semester. She had gone on a trip to Dholavira last year to see the largest Harappan site in India.

But there was one small issue. We wanted her to study in a school where it is not assumed that only those students who did not get admission to science or commerce streams study arts and humanities. So the search for the school started, and it wasn't an easy search. Other than perhaps in Delhi, there are hardly any places where this condition would hold. So eventually, we dropped this condition, and said that any school which has a CBSE affiliation (since she has been in CBSE schools for the first 10 years), and has history in 11th class, and is considered a good school overall would do, and of course, we will search for the school only in cities where rest of the family would be willing to shift as well.

And, this is when it became frustrating. The number of schools which offer arts and humanities subjects in 11th class is abysmally small. I had heard all along that we have a serious shortage of students interested in science, and that is why DST spends a huge amount of money on the INSPIRE program, that is why we opened so many IISERs at huge cost. I guess I wanted to believe the propaganda of my colleagues. It has turned out to be completely different. Everyone wants to study science, and no one really wants to study subjects such as history, psychology, etc.

I tried to ask around. We still have a very large number of students doing Bachelors of Arts. Why is this not getting reflected in the enrollments in 11th and 12th classes. And that is when I heard the following explanation.

OK. So you are interested in history. You should study history at the college level, why would you want to study history at the school level. You are interested, that is not good enough reason. You first have to secure admission at a good history program at the college level, and remember to secure that admission, they will not look at whether you have studied history at the 12th class level. Your total marks will get counted. So the best thing would be to study subjects that are hugely scoring, and over a period of time, science subjects have become hugely scoring. And since in that history class at the college level, 90% of the students would not have done history in the 11th and 12th class levels, the college and the university have no option but to follow a curriculum that assumes that you have done no history in school. So, if you study history in school, you get no benefit (like being able to do more advanced courses) at all at the college level. You just repeat everything there.

So unlike science and engineering programs which require one to study science subjects at the 12th class level, history programs do not have any such requirement, and smart kids and parents have figured that one should not study subjects based on interest but based on their scoring potential.

Of course, my daughter wants to study history just because she likes it and has not yet decided that she really would take up history at the college level, and hence the above suggestion that she just takes up scoring subjects (read, science) and delay her interests by two years is not entirely satisfactory.

Now that I am getting more interested in school education, I am realizing that the problems of school education are worse than the problems of technical education that I have so far been writing about.


Arvind Bansal said...


Even in science and technology, the problem is real bad due to artificial classification. I remember that in my high school, I wanted to do biology and math together. I was just interested in both. However, they were separate streams. May be there are still separate streams in India. I was sitting in both the classes until I got called by the principal who explained to me that either I could learn biology or math due to stream restrictions, and finally I had to leave biology. The artificial classification of arts, science and technology has really created whole lot of stereotyping. It may be due to convenience of administration. However, it leaves serious holes in the education system.

kasara said...

It is something which is well known to many people, though not much discussed. I mean the fact that in our society, studying arts has no value attached to it. Intelligent students should study sciences only or, to put it other way, only unintelligent students study subjects other than sciences. The issue requires a thorough in- depth study. Because of an unusual development- an eminent engineer-teacher's daughter desiring to study sciences - has happily given some scope for a discussion..Who is responsible for this sorry state of affairs- the media, the politicians, the science protagonists, the educationists, the intellectuals, the businessmen, the entrepreneurs, or the society in general? I am eagerly waiting for the views of the people concerned or concerned people.

Shivam Sharma said...

Very well said sir. Horrible school education/culture is perhaps the root of it all. Schools in India have only one thing to teach to us: "Do not follow your interest. Do what is considered good in society." And this is the reason why most Indians (however intelligent they may be) never quite go on to do something exceptional. If only people were allowed to devote their lives to the things they like to do, much more innovation could have been possible here.

There is one society that is exception to this in India : Tamil Nadu. Why is it that they have produced world class creative/genius people like A. R Rehman, Ramanujan, Kamal Hasan, Vishwanathan Anand ?? Because if only people were allowed to do what they could do best and what interested them, they could be Rehmans and Anands easily. TN is one good example of such a society in India. These guys don't even go to IITs blindly following the herd yet they contribute more to science/engineering than say people from UP.

PS: I belong to such a section of Indian society (read UP) where you do things for either getting more power (IAS) or more money (a 20+ package). After graduating from IITK in engineering did I realize that my real interest was in pure Science (it'd always been that) and I've started pursuing my interest after a gap of 6 years (to the disappointment for my parents though)!! Thank goodness, your daughter has to wait only for 2 years.

Nita said...

Thank God, you are considerate enough and trying to support the interests of your child. But, there are many parents, both well educated and financially well placed, trying to persuade their wards away from their field of interest. They try to push their children only for medical or engineering and civil services; and nothing else. What else can be told about parents with no financial security or educational guidance!

Kishore Kapoor said...

I think that CBSE has 5 subjects in
class 11th and 12th Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics or Biology and English. The 5th subject is an optional one - one has to choose one from many like Physical Education, Computer Science etc. I am not sure if a Science student can take History as the 5th subject but that could be an option.

L said...

Most children study science in the XI and XII, but they do not pursue science--they need it to join an engineering or a medical college. The remaining study commerce.
The problem with taking history in the XI-- your daughter's classmates will be those children who could not get into anything else. Having such classmates makes school very uninspiring.

An IITK student said...

This is one of those rare posts where I find myself disagreeing with Prof. Sanghi on a matter of educational policy. I think that, even if by accident, the humanities departments in India have got it right by allowing students who did not formally study humanities in Class 12 to enroll in their undergraduate programs. I am not sure they have reached there using the kind of arguments I would have liked them to (detailed below), but at least they have gotten to what I think is the right goal.

The reason I think so is that education up to class 12 is surprisingly rigid in India. For example, a student who didn't formally have Chemistry in Class 12 can say goodbye to her dreams of studying Mathematics at one of the IITs. At least the humanities departments do not expect their students to have made a decision on what they are going to do with their lives at age 15.

On a related note, I think that the emphasis on the "formal" nature is also rather stifling. I had friends at school who learnt everything from Indian History to Real Analysis to Special Relativity to Western Classical Music while they were in Class 12; not because it would get them a high score in JEE or the boards or help them in college admissions, but just because they liked these things. This also meant that they actually came to learn these things better than many of the subjects they for formally enrolled in at school.
In fact, from my own experience, I can say that for a student who really likes a subject, the school curriculum for the subject in most cases can be rather stifling and boring, and actually not having to study the subject formally in such a situation can be quite a blessing in disguise. I haven't seen the Class 12 History books in a while, but I would bet that they wouldn't quite be as interesting (and much more politically censored) than lectures given at IITK by a leading professional historian.

Regarding the specific discipline of history, I would also like to point out that two of the most rigorous Indian historians of the last 70 years happen to be "outsiders": the first of these is D D Kosambi, who was a good enough mathematician to be a professor at TIFR in its golden age, and the epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan, a civil servant who happened to do his undergraduate degree in Chemistry.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@An IITK Student, Would be best if you are not anonymous. But anyway, I tried hard to read your comment many times and my own blog, and I am unable to see where you disagree with me.

An IITK student said...

@Dheeraj Sanghi: I somehow interpreted your comments about how History programs don't take into account Class 12 History scores as implying that you would like History programs to give Class 12 History marks the same kind of importance that science programs often give to Class 12 Maths, Physics and Chemistry scores. This is where I disagreed: I think it is fine for History programs to admit students who didn't formally study History in Class 12. Apologies if my interpretation was not correct.

Of course, ideally, the History programs would care more about how interested a prospective student is in History, but that's not something they do.

The reason for the pseudo-anonymous pseudonym is that I was a student at IITK a long time ago (more than half a decade). Somehow the pseudonym has stuck. I'll certainly change it the next thread I have to comment on.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@An IITK Student, I find it amusing that people are telling me that she should study scoring subjects like physical education and computer science irrespective of her interest. If BA (history) admitted students from all discipline, that is absolutely fine, but if to get admission to BA (history), it is recommended that you should study anything but history, then it is a little strange.

An IITK student said...

@Dheeraj Sanghi: Yes, I agree that the mode of thought (that you have to study "scoring" subjects like PE) to get into a History or Economics---as well as the policies that have led to to such ridiculous strategies actually being rational---are not just amusing, they have become tragic by now.

Dinesh Ramankutty said...

Prof Sanghi, This post of yours sort of resonated with me. As parents of a daughter who was keen to study Humanities for 11th and 12th, we went through lot of hurdles after our daughter finished 10th. The school and teachers were sort of forcing us to put her in Science. They thought we were irresponsible parents allowing a bright kid to waste her life. We stood firm and fortunately the school had a brilliant Principal who understood our daughter and started Humanities section for the first time in school so that our daughter need not move to another school. Our daughter enjoyed her 2 years of Humanities and did very well in her board exams. She is currently a 2nd year undergraduate planning to major in History & International relations at Ashoka University in Sonipat. Again, we went against norms and chose Ashoka after getting St Stephens & Miranda. We did not go by reputation or rankings, but by where we felt she will get a good education. Our daughter is very happy with her choice and as parents we are at peace. Regards,

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Dinesh, thanks for your comments. It is strange that people are willing to choose Computer Science which has perhaps the highest unemployment rate in the country, than disciplines that they are more likely to enjoy. By the way, I taught in Ashoka University last semester, and it is an amazing place. I am sure she is enjoying her stay there and learning a lot.

Unknown said...

i live in lucknow and i persued biology in class 11 .i had scored 90% in HCG in ICSE CLASS 10 now i find difficult to study science and i am very frustrated what should i do i am unable to find any arts school also .

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Unknown, It might be too late to change the subject now that the board exams are less than 6 months away. But you can always study the subjects of your choice after doing science in 12th. Keep up your motivation by thinking that it is just six more months of science and good marks can get you admission in good college. Talk to your family, teachers, and if necessary, a counselor. Best wishes.