The status of the academic and vocational streams at the higher secondary stage needs to be reviewed in view of the continued preoccupation with and influence of the board and entrance examinations, and in view of the continued privilege given to the so-called academic stream and the failure of the vocational stream to take off. During this period of two years students make choices based on their interests, aptitudes and needs regarding their future life.
The possibilities of choosing optional courses of study for exploring and understanding different areas of knowledge, both in relation to one's interest and one's future career, is integral to this stage. Exploring disciplines and approaching problems and issues from rich interdisciplinary perspectives are possible at this stage. There is a need to allow for such investigations to take place between and outside the 'subjects' chosen for study.
Most boards of study offer a variety of subject areas in addition to the compulsory language courses. There is a concern about the formal or informal restrictions that operate to narrow the choice of subjects of study for students. Several boards restrict the combinations in the form of 'the science stream', 'the arts stream' and 'the commerce stream'. Universities also need to review their admission criteria as they currently restrict admission based on the kinds and combinations of courses studied at the +2 stage. As a consequence, many significant and meaningful combinations of study, such as, for example, Physics, Mathematics and Philosophy, or Literature, Biology and History, are closed to students.
Recent trends of schools tailoring their classes to medical and engineering courses have led to an artificial restriction on the courses they offer in school, arguably on grounds of popularity and timetabling. In many parts of the country, students who want to study the arts and liberal subjects are left with very few options. Schools also discourage students from opting for unconventional combinations, often on account of timetabling considerations. We believe it is essential to keep all options open for students. In case there are not enough students in a school opting for a particular subject, 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. School boards may also consider a more active role in promoting subjects and streams of study.
The courses offered at the +2 stage need to be alive to recent and current developments in the disciplines, as new knowledge areas are carved out, disciplinary boundaries shift and multidisciplinary studies develop. To allow students to engage with areas of study that are growing in importance within the disciplines and fields, courses could also be designed to offer optional modules, rather than trying to cover everything and packing courses with too much information. For example, History could have an optional module to study either Archaeology or World History; similarly, Physics could offer the options of Astronomy, Space Science and Rocketry etc.
Under pressure to 'cover' vast syllabi, many important aspects of learning such as practicals and field trips, and ways of learning such as reference work, project work and presentations, are not fully utilised, to the detriment of overall learning. Well -equipped laboratories and libraries, and access to computers, are essential, and all efforts must be made to ensure that schools and junior colleges are well equipped with such resources.
The vocational stream originally was meant to address the needs of those who would enter the work force earlier than those who would enter the professions via the traditional academic streams, or those who would pursue study and research. We recommend infusing productive work as a pedagogic medium for knowledge acquisition, developing values and multiple skill formation at all stages of education, including the +2 stage.
Given the developmental nature of this stage, guidance and counselling by trained professionals must be made available to children. Interventions to enhance self/career awareness, career exploration and planning are also essential. Besides, this stage coincides with adolescence, a period in an individual's life that is marked by personal, social and emotional crises created due to the demands of adjustment required in family, peer group and school situations. The provision of these services in schools would help create the support system required to cope with increasing academic and social pressures.