English and Social Science

July 31, 2009
She had not always wanted to become a teacher. When she was young she wanted to become so many things – Astronaut, Doctor, Miss Universe and what not! But as she grew up, the other options looked less enticing. Partly because of the skill sets required and partly because of the time that need to be invested in them. Like everyone else, she too chose this profession by elimination – the technique of analysing all the possible options and rejecting them one by one.

Not that she was not happy with her job, as this was like any other job in this world having its share of fun, learning, politics and helplessness. The last one – helplessness was bothering her the most. Especially when there was no one to help with her helplessness!

Like any other teacher, she too had to counsel the kids who failed in their exams, or did very badly. Generally she was the person who was in-charge, in these counselling sessions. The kids spoke very less or did not speak at all! She used all the techniques – advising, suggesting, threatening and everything else except reasoning. And her helplessness was evident when one of the kids used it.

“You have scored good marks in Maths and English. Why not score like that in Social Science? Is anything wrong with the teaching or you don’t like the subject?”

“I don’t want to memorize stuff like others. I think it is too boring, and at the end of the day defeats the purpose of learning”

“Who said you need to memorize everything? Understand what you are reading, put it down in points, remember that and write it in your exams”

“Remembering all the points in the exact order is called memorizing”

“You are just giving an excuse to justify your laziness”

“Laziness comes when I want to do something, but don’t do it. Here, I don’t even want to touch the books except on the day before exams”

“That is the point. If you had started learning earlier, you would have scored better. Good that you said it from your own mouth”

“I agree that if I had started to memorize earlier, I would have scored marks. But I don’t want to get in to the habit of memorizing things. It is a very bad habit to develop”

“If you go on speaking like this, then all your friends will pass out and get good jobs in big software companies. You would feel for all this, then”

“One correction. All my friends will get jobs in big BPO companies. You cannot have people memorize stuff and expect them to program computers. Coding is a different ball game all together. It’s more about syntax and logic than about memorizing all the lines of a computer program. You might pass an exam like that but never become a good software engineer by memorizing code. Most of the software companies are in to outsourcing simpler jobs anyway, so that should not bother them. In fact, BPO companies would love to hire such ‘talents’ who have been doing nothing but memorizing all their lives”

What could a teacher say to that? She always wondered why the kids never shared her enthusiasm for the subject. History, Geography, Civics, Economics were all interesting even to her at this age, and sheย  spent a lot of time reading informative material outside her syllabus to satisfy her curiosity. It was about learning new things, and that was what the students were expected to do at this age. At least, that’s all they had to do!

“There is no point in just complaining. You ought to come up with some solution to problems, that’s more important”

“Simple. Have you seen the English syllabus? Have you noticed that in English, there are more extrapolative questions asked in the examination, than descriptive ones? Even if someone memorizes the whole book in English, they cannot score marks in the examination because, the questions even in prose, are like what would you have done if you were in that character’s position in that story. You need very good understanding of that character in that story to answer that question. Extrapolative questions not only test your understanding of the situation and the story, but indirectly test your ability to express your thoughts/opinions in the language. Forget prose, take the grammatical questions. They give a sentence and ask the students to indicate what is wrong with that sentence, if at all there is anything wrong. They don’t ask us to memorize and re-produce all the grammatical types and rules in the examination. But to indicate what is wrong in a sentence for example, you need to know the rules and have a sufficient working knowledge in the language, anyway”

“How can that be applied to Social Science”

“If you are testing the students in History, for example, Instead of asking them to describe Aurangzeb’s war of succession, which implies that the students are expected to reproduce what is there in the text book, ask them to analyse the situation. Analyse the way in which Aurangzeb came to power by killing his brothers and imprisoning his father – whether it was right or wrong, whether he had any other options in the political scenario at that time, strategic blunders done by his brothers or just a question like what would you have done if you were in Aurangzeb’s place. To answer such questions, which are essentially out of the syllabus, the students need to have a good understanding of the syllabus. And their understanding of the subject is tested in this case, than their ability to reproduce whole or part of the text books. And wouldn’t it suffice to refer that Aurangzeb’s war of succession happened in the mid-seventeenth century, than expecting the students to remember the exact dates like 1658?”

Though she found the reasoning a bit interesting, she thought it was too impractical an idea to be implemented, and she was helpless about it anyway. So she thought there was no point in encouraging this attitude, though it was right. All that the teachers, parents and the students themselves were interested were marks. No one seemed to be bothered how they get them, as long as they do. So she told the most ‘practical’ thing that can be said by a teacher in that situation.

“You people are fit to be in LKG or UKG only. You people need to be shown pictures along with the names in order to make you understand even simple things. I don’t want to listen to any more excuses. Now off to your class, and I don’t want you to fail once again for philosophical reasons. Is that clear?”

Destination Infinity

PS: Ok, since Vimmuuu has found out, I need to clarify: The last sentence (highlighted in bold) is true and I was told as much by my Engg. college professor, not in school. I used to fail in almost all the local unit tests conducted by my college except for a few of my favorite subjects, but I never once failed in the University exams – I think they liked my hand writing ๐Ÿ™‚ย  But the context was totally different, and as you might expect I did not speak so much, but said some thing like I can’t study (memorize) a subject that I didn’t understand. This post was to avenge that incident. I know it is silly, but…ย  ๐Ÿ˜€

You can read more such articles in the Concepts and Ideas section of this blog.


  1. ๐Ÿ™‚ Social science was my favorite subject except civics.
    Coming to the post, a very interesting and useful suggestion! Revamping of education style in India has become a necessity instead of doing away with exams.

    • As long as I was in School, I didn’t like Social Science, but during college I developed an interest in history.

      A huge revamping of not only education style, but also people’s attitude towards education has become necessity. There is no point in doing away with exams, but the exams need to test the understanding of subjects (not the ability to reproduce text books) and needs to be on a grade scale than the mark scale which we have now, atleast for lower classes.

      Destination Infinity

  2. Is this an excerpt from your real life?? Iam sure it is !!!! ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

    I have always scored good marks in both history and geo ! History was too easy; like you mentioned, I imagine a story and also have faces for all those characters in the story. That way, its easy to reproduce what I read into my exam papers. Kids should be taught that way too. All this remembering dates and stuffs is total stupidity !

    • I have clarified that point in the post script. Now happy? ๐Ÿ™‚

      I too didn’t have any issues till the school level, but this Engg. syllabus was too much theory – they start explaining waves and how they travel and some Fourier transform and what not! At the end of the day, it was like reading Greek and Latin!

      Destination Infinity

  3. Oh I am all about Social Sciences…..went to Tata Institute of Social Sciences…loved the subjects in school…though relied on my over active imagination to make these subjects interesting. I actually believed I was a Court Dancer in my past life while studying the Temple Architecture in History. ๐Ÿ™‚
    But I so get what you are saying. The way a subject is taught can make all the difference. Reminds me of “Dead Poets Society” – The Movie.
    Ohh what a differnce a great Teacher makes!

    • I need to see that movie. Interesting name for a movie! I do feel that like students, teachers also lack the energy and life while teaching some concept. I think, one needs to be excited about a subject to pass on the enthusiasm and interest to others. People need to understand that the hopeless system we have is serving nobody.

      Destination Infinity

  4. you know, in India its way to impractical to do what you suggested up there, and i totally empathise with the “teacher” there… the helplessness… i have felt that when i was a medical teacher! But with our populace and considering the strength of teachers (as in number) plus their intellectual level, the pay scale… ufff.. i can go on and on! India needs a major change in the education and with Kapil Sibbal doing what he is, i can only see it going downwards! We need thinkers and futuristic people in power and not those who just see the short term gain!

    phew… bahut bola meien, na! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • The English syllabus (CBSE) used to be like what you said earlier. But fortunately, when I moved to 9th standard, a lot of reforms were brought in and the whole format of testing the students was changed across the country. I owe whatever interest I have in the language to that format. I liked my local language – Tamil too, but as you might expect, the teaching and examinations were more memory oriented except maybe the essay writing, which was my favourite.

      But the point is, when they can bring such changes in English, why can’t they bring such changes to other subjects as well? I don’t think it is too impractical. Just the people need to start demanding, that’s all. That never happens here!

      Destination Infinity

      • ha well I got only 73 in Tamil in my 10th boards because of that ๐Ÿ˜› My parents , teachers everyone tried , but I refused to memorize(except a couple of things , which stuck in my memory coz I liked them ๐Ÿ˜› ) …

        I can’t memorize things…and well fortunately for me , my Social science teachers till 10th gave marks for answers , which covered all the “points” ( i.e. if we are aware of what we are talking)..But in the 10th my marks slumped because the teacher refused to give me marks(saying that in the boards I won’t be able to score)..well I still didn’t bother..and got 94 or something in the boards ๐Ÿ˜›

        Oh as for English…well we never expect much in our boards..we are told to write simple English but which at times we fail , because according to our teachers the English of teachers in the North is bad ๐Ÿ˜€

  5. I agree with Sakhi. Its easy for people of average intelligence to mug and vomit it out. It’s easier for teachers too, to teach. In fact it is the teachers who will have to make a huge effort to teach this way. I can’t see it happening. I guess more and more enlightened parents will go the IB way.

    • I don’t know about IB syllabus. A lot of schools in Bangalore seem to follow that. But with my experience in CBSE and State board, it will be a huge step forward for both the students and the teachers. But the parents want assured marks! In the present system, if you memorize enough, you would be assured of a certain (high) marks. That is the issue. Unless we come out of High marks + Big college Degree + High paying Job = Great Life equation, which is rather simplistic in this complex web of life, we are not going to achieve anything. People should understand why they are doing certain things and look at a longer term.

      Destination Infinity

  6. yep i had a feeling the student is definitely you ๐Ÿ™‚ a little more or a less less inpsired from real life.

    the indian education system relies heavily on memorising concepts and vomitting them back ditto on paper. students never really learn anything per se in this. just as english and maths require application of whatever learnt, other subjects also need to be redone and taught in ways which interest and stimulate kids’ brains. but yea, we cud go on arguing abt it.

    my grandpa who was the prinicpal of a college, used to say: it doesnt matter what the potential of the student .. slow or fast, bright or dull. they r all made to fit in one education system. its like the story of that psycho guy who used to invite visitors to his home and give them a bed of 6 feet to sleep. if the guest was short, he wud stretch them to breaking point to make them fit into the bed. if the guest was tall, he wud chop off their legs to fit them in.

    u get my drift, dont u? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I don’t know how it is in other countries. How a whole nation can accept such silly education system, is something that I am not able to understand. I think we have way too much tolerance or we are way too much ignorant. That explains why we elect certain people to power, as well!

      Destination Infinity

      • oh I have argued about this in school…the teachers all agree , but they don’t see it happening , a few say its always been like that..others know that not many really care…

      • I had another argument with a Maths teacher in my 11th Std. In the matric syllabus, we are given a certain number of problems in the text book, and only those problems come in the exams as well. That meant that no problems from outside the text book are ever discussed or practised. In certain areas, people were actually memorizing the mathematical problems!! That was so shocking for someone who was from CBSE where we didn’t bother about the text book at all, especially for maths. I lost the interest in mathematics (which was my favourite subject) from there on!

        But they managed certain changes in English back then, and I wonder why the same thing cannot be done in Social Science! And one more thing, the teachers, students and parents need to demand such things, instead of keeping quiet.

        Destination Infinity

        • they’d have to revise the entire education system for that… and that takes time. but if somebody were willing to take the effort, it wud do a hell lot of good.

          for example, they r doing away with 10th class exams. a lot of ppl are lauding it.

          as for ur maths syllabus issue, thats really shocking. we as a nation definitely have brain power, but we dont utilise it which is why half of our population is out there somewhere helping other economies profit!

  7. > never once failed in the University exams โ€“ I think they liked my hand writing

    I know how your handwriting looks like. Don’t fool your readers here ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Well what you have seen is the cryptic text that I write so that others are not able to read. To protect intellectual property. But in the exams I write neatly ๐Ÿ™‚ I am just wondering, if not for the handwriting, why did they make me pass in all the exams?? They should have had some internal targets or something to make a certain number of people pass, I guess!!

  8. there are few things DI, that needs to be let them by itself ๐Ÿ™‚ history is about reading the things of the past, their glory, their faults, how the people lived then… their practices.. so on and on..

    by applying our mind we can’t change the history.. we have to learn from it… it can be like ‘what he has done?’ and ‘what you would have done?’

    I know our Educational system is crap… everybody fooled by the marks ๐Ÿ˜ก just like our political system it will be like this forever ๐Ÿ˜

    • It is true that by applying our mind, we cannot change the history, but certain extrapolatory questions can be formed which would test the students knowledge of history without requiring them to memorize the syllabus. And second, history needs to be analysed, not only understood. The education system is just not addressing that point, today.

      Destination Infinity

  9. Although I got very good marks in Social sciences, I hated the subject. There was so much in your history but the way things were presented, it all required mugging up without understanding. Even the teachers made everything worse.

    • That is correct, even I developed interest in history only during my college. Strange!

      Destination Infinity

      • History has always been a fav subject of mine , because my grand father sued to tell it as “stories” even before I had it as subject in school ๐Ÿ˜›

  10. What you have suggested will not happen here, in our schools. Most of the teachers do not update their knowledge by doing some homework. I have experienced some teachers just read the text book, finished. Male teachers might have time to read outside books but women must go home and do home/housework. Unless they are interested to make their class interesting in a particular subject, no luck.

    I liked history and used to get good marks. Geography was difficult!

    I remember my children scoring good marks, if they liked the subject teacher. Their school never asked them to mug up. I have seen their test notebooks and the replies for the questions were their own, not the text book sentences. Thank god.

    Your new posts were not showing in my blog. I remember seeing ‘language of the royals’ being highlighted. I was wondering why you were not writing. Now, will read the other posts, one by one. I like your writing. I added your ‘wordpress’ again.

    • That’s interesting. So, there are schools where the mugging up is not mandatory!

      About teachers not making the class lively, it is true in almost all the cases. It is much worser in engineering colleges. I think that the teachers should be having a certain energy while teaching things, and should be able to pass on the excitement to the class. Students are always eager to learn. When I studied, the English and Mathematics were always handled well in CBSE. I made one big mistake in choosing matriculation board during my eleventh standard!

      Destination Infinity

  11. Brilliant post!!!!

    I feel strongly about this. I loved History but not what we learnt in our History Text books which were only dates and treaties… I found Amar Chitra katha was great for making the names in the History text book become real people. Later for my kids some very interesting books by Scholastic (Like autobiography of Jahan Ara and Sanghmitra (‘Ashoka the great’s sister)… but the exams system was extremely disappointing all along.

    Our schools teach for the board exams, and teachers are generally uninspiring… we need a more flexible system which totally erases all competition. Like various levels of Maths, and every other subject, like more freedom in choosing the subjects the students wish to study… that will help the teachers teach instead of worry about the school’s Board Results. IB gives these options, and our Indian boards will benefit from following these. (Though it is difficult to find good IB schools, with trained & experienced staff…our Indian teachers cannot understand how they teach without course books detailing exactly what to spoon-feed)… This has become a long comment,the post just struck a chord…

    • I agree. I am becoming more interested in the IB syllabus. Should talk to someone who has studied in that syllabus to understand it better. CBSE was also good for two subjects – Maths and English. You have brought another important point, the teachers in our present society are not regarded all that important – They don’t have the glam that a software engineer (BPO Worker) has… one reason is the difference of the pay, but I guess these days, teachers are getting better pay.

      One thing is for sure, none of our best talented graduates are choosing educating as a career, and that is a worrisome situation!

      Destination Infinity

      • Just read your response DI. English in IB can be studied at two levels, even at Standard Level you have to write Internal Assignments, and you have to study many national and international literary works, including Shakespeare.

        At higher level you cover a bit of Delhi University’s English(Honors) Syllabus. Generally IB students can get six months credit in the US (if they have done well that is).

        In Maths a Scientific calculator is not permitted, but required, so you are taught how to use it. And all the subjects, including Maths are application based, so a student who has been regular in attending classes and submitting all the hundreds of assignments, but doesn’t ‘work hard’ or ‘learn’ is the kind to score very well.

        CBSE needs to make all subject levels optional, will make a tremendous amount of difference… hey sorry for this long comment … my pet peeve ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      • Reminds me of a friend, who just casually prepared for his CAT exam (for about a month) but got selected in IIM. Compare this with others who prepare for years! I am quite impressed with this IB syllabus… I will definitely try to explore more.

        Destination Infinity

  12. Totally agree with the point on extrapolative questions. I was lucky to have a English teacher in class ninth who taught in the manner you suggested.
    SSc was always boring to study. But nowadays I find myself reading a lot of geography and histroy on wiki. And they go better hand in hand :).

    • Me too. I am not much in to Geography though. But I am reading a lot of history/ non-fiction etc. Thanks to wiki!

      Destination Infinity

  13. I think the new NCERT textbooks try to address these issues in social science education in India, see this

    They are available online, http://ncert.nic.in/textbooks/testing/Index.htm , check out the std 8-10 books on social science.

    Many states have however refused to use or adapt these books to their curriculums.

    • Thank you so much for the links Vikram. Yesterday when I read that NY Times article, I got a lot of confidence and I was very happy!! Yet to sample the syllabus link you have given. It is quite sad that the states are not adopting the syllabus, but the NCERT guys have done excellent work. I hope slowly the education system would be revamped like this.

      Destination Infinity

  14. Nice post ๐Ÿ™‚ I am unsure about the Indian education systems – its not the same every where. I like reasoning and I think analyzing is way better that just memorizing. It would be useful in the practical world.

    • As far as I know, what ever I studied after 8th Standard, is quite useless in the practical world!! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Destination Infinity

  15. Ah social sciences! I so hated them! I have a friend who is so fascinated by history. Visiting museums with him is a revelation !

    But generally i stay away from these social sciences.. though I used to like economics n civics.. they seemed important to know..

    We need educational reforms! And that kid ( i mean you) gave a wonderful suggestion! i hope it gets implemented and it is not at all impractical.. infact it is a necessity!

    • I don’t know how it happens in other countries. This kind of rote learning might have been popular only in the middle ages! or here. Looks like NCERT is bringing some reforms in educational system – wish more people could take up ICSE or CBSE.

      Destination Infinity

  16. The 2009 edition of Iken Scientifica, Indiaโ€™s largest hands on Science and Technology event for kids will be telecasted on National Geographic Channel, every Sunday, from 30th May 2010 to 13th June 2010 at 6:00 PM. Donโ€™t miss it! Get a glimpse of the future Einsteins and Edisons at work, only @Iken Scientifica. Presented by Mexus Education.

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