(Published in the school edition of The New Indian Express on 24 August, 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/school/caught-in-a-useless-struggle/307147.html)
Image Courtesy: The New Indian Express
Image Courtesy: The New Indian Express
The Samacheer Kalvi scheme was introduced by the DMK government, which said it wanted to unify the syllabi of the four school boards in Tamil Nadu – State, Matriculation, Anglo-Indian and Oriental. This system was used in 2010 for Class I and Class VI alone, and was supposed to be introduced for other classes up to X this year.
However, in May 2011, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said the new textbooks were not up to the mark, and the government decided to postpone implementing the Uniform School Education (USE) scheme.
But some groups are in favour of the USE being started for all classes this year, and the case was dragged to the Supreme Court, as students continued to wait for textbooks.
How It All Began
In November 2009, the Tamil Nadu Uniform System of School Education Ordinance was passed by the Governor to introduce the USE, based on the findings of a committee. The ordinance said the aim of the USE was to “ensure social justice and provide quality education” in the schools.
The ruling DMK government said this could not be discussed in the Legislative Assembly at that time, as the Assembly was not in session, and the Governor had taken action because the matter was urgent. The USE would be implemented in the academic year 2010-2011 for Classes I and VI and in the next year for other classes, up to X, in 2011-2012.
The new system was introduced for Classes I and VI in June 2011. Some reports said most parents and school management heads felt the standard of the syllabus had gone down, and were worried that students may not be able to compete in other examinations. Many schools told parents they would distribute extra material, in addition to the textbooks.
The new curriculum was used through the year for the two chosen classes.
On May 22, the new AIADMK government under Jayalalithaa said it would put the introduction of USE for the other classes on hold. The state government said it was not against the USE, but would appoint a committee of experts to improve the quality of the syllabus. This meant the textbooks which had already been printed would be wasted, and new books under the old system would have to be printed again. So, the date of reopening of schools was postponed.
But again, not everyone was in favour of postponing the USE. Prince Gajendra Babu, General Secretary of the State Platform for Common School System, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Madras High Court. He said deferring introduction of the USE, despite an Act having been passed by the previous government, went against the Constitution. He said there was no proof that the textbooks were of poor quality, and that the confusion over the syllabus would cause stress and trauma for schoolchildren.
The state government filed an appeal the Supreme Court, which ordered the state to appoint a panel of experts to study the curriculum. It handed the main petition back to the Madras High Court. Three days later, Jayalalithaa asked a nine-member committee to review the USE syllabus. The members included the Chief Secretary, State Director of School Education, representatives of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), as well as the principals and founders of several schools.
The state government wanted the committee to make sure that the textbooks did not contain “political propaganda material” of the DMK. The concern was raised as a poem by former Chief Minister Karunanidhi was included in a textbook, and the curriculum was reported to include chapters on his life and that of his daughter, the 2G scam accused Kanimozhi.
The committee submitted its report to the Madras High Court on July 5. The panel felt the new textbooks could not provide good education, and seemed to have been prepared in a hurry. It said the common syllabus is not age appropriate, and would overburden students. The experts said the schoolbooks could not be used this year, as the curriculum needed many changes, and there were grammatical errors in the books too.
The Madras High Court’s Verdict
On July 18, the Madras High Court ruled that the state government had “exceeded its powers” in amending an Act that was in effect. The court said the USE must be implemented immediately, and the textbooks issued to students by July 22. The panel of experts had not rejected the system outright, the court felt, and suggested that additional material could be distributed in the form of booklets to students over the next three months, while objectionable material could be blacked out.
Both the state government’s allies and opposition urged Jayalalithaa not to appeal against the verdict. But the state did appeal in the Supreme Court, saying the High Court had failed to appreciate that a detailed study was required for overhauling the syllabus before putting the USE into effect.
What does the Supreme Court Say?
The Supreme Court refused to stay the order of the Madras High Court, but extended the deadline for distribution of books to August 2.
Since July 26, the case has been heard regularly in the apex court. On the first day, the state government said it would be hard to introduce the USE this year, as the contents of the schoolbooks had to be revised.
The judges hearing the case said the amendment was vague, and asked for a specific time limit for when the government would be ready to implement the system. The state answered that a high-level committee had to be set up to review the current syllabus and make sure the students would be on par with their counterparts in other states; so, it could only be introduced next year. The lawyer also said other aspects, such as qualification of teachers, infrastructure facilities, examinations, and codes of conduct would have to be studied, in addition to the curriculum.
On the same day, the DMK called for a peaceful boycott of all educational institutions across the state on July 29, to push the government to implement the USE.
The next day, the judge asked why the state had made an amendment in the Act, when the Madras High Court had already given it a year’s time to implement the USE. Senior Advocate P P Rao, appearing on behalf of the state, admitted it was unnecessary and had caused trouble. But he maintained that it was his own opinion, and not that of the state government.
However, other lawyers representing the state and schools who wanted to postpone introducing the USE said the state legislature had the right to make an amendment, and the Madras High Court should not have interfered unless it violated the Constitution.
The Supreme Court heard all the arguments, and reserved its verdict. Finally, on 9 August, it ruled against the Tamil Nadu government’s appeal, and said the USE must be implemented immediately.
DMK makes a poll promise to implement the Uniform School Education system
November 27, 2009
Governor passes an ordinance to put the USE into effect in 2010-2011 for Classes I and VI, and from 2011-2012 for other classes up to X
February 1, 2010
The Tamil Nadu Uniform System of School Education Act is passed
USE is introduced in Class I and VI, and anxious parents raise concerns over the quality of the syllabus
May 22, 2011
Implementation of USE for other classes is deferred at the first meeting of the new state Cabinet under Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, which passes an amendment to the Tamil Nadu Uniform System of School Education Act
June 8, 2011
PIL is filed by Prince Gajendra Babu in the Madras High Court, challenging the constitutional validity of the amendment. The state appeals to the Supreme Court at once.
June 14, 2011
Supreme Court asks the state to appoint an expert panel to examine the syllabus and submit a report by July 6, and sends the main petition back to the Madras High Court
June 15, 2011
Schools reopen without textbooks
June 17, 2011
An expert panel is appointed by Jayalalithaa to review the textbooks
July 5, 2011
The panel submits its report and recommendations to the Madras High Court, saying the USE textbooks:
July 18, 2011
Madras High Court orders the state government to implement the USE this year, and distribute books by July 22. The state appeals to the Supreme Court.
July 21, 2011
Supreme Court refuses to stay the Madras High Court order, but gives the state time till August 2 to issue textbooks
July 26, 2011
Daily hearings of the appeal begin in the Supreme Court; DMK calls for a stir against postponement of the USE, on July 29.
The Supreme Court reserves its verdict, and extends the deadline for distribution of books to August 10.
The Supreme Court orders that the USE be implemented within 10 days.
THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED!
On July 7, 2011, a lawyer appearing for the parties in favour of implementing the USE this year told the Madras High Court that a diagram in a science textbook depicting the sun in shadow during a lunar eclipse was blacked out as the sun resembled the DMK's symbol.
On July 26, 2011, 45 students of two Tiruchy schools were kidnapped by 6 members of the Puratchikara Manavar Iyakkam (Revolutionary Students Movement) for a protest demanding implementation of USE. The crying children were rescued by police, who arrested the kidnappers.
NOTE: This is not an opinion piece. It's a feature in the school edition of The New Indian Express, which explains the basics of current affairs issues.