Secondary school is a period of intense physical change and formation of identity. It is also the period of intense vibrancy and energy. The ability for abstract reasoning and logical thinking emerges, allowing children the possibility of deep engagement with both understanding and generating knowledge beyond the here and now. A critical understanding of the self in relation to society also emerges during this period.
The courses at this level generally aim at creating an awareness of the various disciplines and introduce students to the possibilities and scope of study in them. Through such engagement, they also discover their own interests and aptitudes and begin to form ideas on what courses of study and related work they might like to pursue later. Such needs could be effectively met by guidance and counselling interventions of an organised nature with the support of trained teachers and professional counsellors. For a large number of children, this is also a terminal stage, when they leave school and begin acquiring productive work skills. Those for whom this stage becomes terminal on account of socio-economic circumstances need opportunities for learning creative and productive work skills while the system as a whole moves towards universalising secondary education. Providing access to libraries and experience in laboratories is essential, and hence there must be a concerted effort to ensure that all children have access to such facilities.
These two years are shadowed by the spectre of achieving respectable 'board examination' marks in this examination since this will determine future options. Schools often proudly state that they finish the entire syllabus for Class X by the end of the first term, and spend the rest of the year (two terms) on revision, so that students are well prepared for their examination. Class IX of this stage, and later Class XI, are sacrificed for the same reason. This preoccupation with the examination, and its deleterious effect on learning, needs to be reviewed and challenged. Is it worth wasting a year of perhaps the most fruitful period of a child's life in such non-productive engagement? Is it not possible that by pacing learning more evenly throughout the year, we may serve preparation for the examination itself in a much better way? On account of the examinations, many other curricular areas, especially sports and arts, are also compromised. It is necessary to ensure that these areas are protected, and also that a serious attempt is made to institute meaningful experiences of work during this period.
Most boards in the country offer limited or no optional courses in this period; two languages (one of which is English), Mathematics, science and social sciences are the typical examination subjects. In this group, the courses of Mathematics and English, which are responsible for the 'failure' of a large number of students, need to be revisited and redesigned. The policy of declaring pass–fail in the whole examination, and the meaning of the 'pass mark', may also need to be reviewed. Related issues are discussed in Chapter 5, in the section on examination reforms.
A few boards also encourage students to choose an optional course from a range that includes economics, music and cookery. Such options could be increased, and the possibilities of substituting the more traditional disciplines with these options could also be considered. Vocational options could also be introduced. Many such vocational options may arise from the world of productive work in the local community. For example, auto maintenance in garages, tailoring and paramedical services offer possibilities for collaboration to create meaningful vocational courses; school boards could accredit such learning and thereby also recognise the many sites of learning that are situated outside school. In our country, many vocational stream courses have deteriorated in their quality, and hence are unable to provide students with meaningful work-related knowledge and skills. In many cases, these courses have degraded into routine credentialing courses, and make no distinction between learning to do a job versus learning to get a job.