The drop-out conundrum

Do you know that 27 million children enrolled in Class I in the year 2012-13, and, in the same year, over 6 million either failed the Class X exam or dropped out after passing the exam as per DISE School Education India Report 2012-13? In short, over 6 million exited the school system from Class X that year.

On the other hand, the quality of students passing out of Class X is dropping dramatically. Consider this: the CBSE board in February 2014 amended the pass rules for Class IX and Class X. Students must get 25 per cent in the final (summative) assessments to pass.

The Maharashtra government, in January 2014, was forced to tighten the rules for passing the Class X exam, according to a news report. Earlier, 35 per cent was the aggregate percentage required to pass, including written and practical exams.

The new amendment said that minimum 20 per cent score was essential in the written exam (16 marks out of 80 marks in the written exam) in addition to an aggregate of 35 per cent. The reason — many colleges were helping students get maximum marks in the practical exams.


The government pushed the enrolment aggressively without reviewing the curriculum. The student in-take demographics had changed dramatically since the 1960s, but the curriculum quality went higher and higher, with the end result that the government had to drop the required pass percentage to very low levels for political reasons to push upwards more students. But the higher the student went, the bigger the gap between the student competence and the curriculum.

The consequence was a huge drop-out number after passing the exam, because of fear of the higher-class curriculum.

There are many reasons for this. Recently, a study of Karnataka government identified change of school after Class X as one of the reasons.

Other reasons include the need to earn to supplement family income, handling family chores and lack of basic facilities at school. All these reasons are valid. But according to me, by far the biggest reason is the curriculum for Classes XI and XII.

Most of the maths taught in Classes XI and XII is irrelevant to 95 per cent of engineering students. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan


Let me give you a sample question from a maths sample paper of Class XI. Prove that the coefficient of x in the expansion of (1+x) is twice the coefficient of x in the expansion of (1+ x).

Or, evaluate: ( a + √a – 1) + (a –√a – 1)

As an IITian I am intimidated, now imagine the fate of a struggling student in Class X. Why do we teach such advanced maths in Class XI? Because it is useful to engineering education? Is it useful later in life? The answer is a big no!

I was asked by a Class XII student caller in a radio show — how much of differential equations and other complex mathematics do I use in my work after passing out of IIT and IIM?

My answer was that most of the time I use arithmetic, and even for that, I use a calculator.

In a presentation to the Board of Directors of India’s most leading aviation corporation several years ago, I shared the exam paper of Class XII, and almost the entire board agreed that they cannot solve even 10 per cent of the paper. And most agreed that they did not need such advanced maths to reach the Board level.

So most of the maths they teach in Classes XI and XII is irrelevant to 95 per cent of the engineering students (after they pass) and only 5 per cent or less working in research or in design use this level of maths or physics.

Why are we designing such a difficult curriculum ?

The Class XI and XII curriculum is designed for a bright student keen on pursuing a master’s or a doctorate degree. If I were a mediocre student, I would have hated school and dropped out in Class X.

What choice do mediocre students have today at Class X level?

The choice has to be only Arts since Science and Commerce streams have a significant maths component. In other words, we are not providing any choice for the student with average maths skills.


Provide two levels of streams for Classes XI and XII — the current system for the bright, higher-education student with a focus on the theoretical aspects and a second system — far more practical — Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry — for mediocre students with sharper focus on practical life issues and skills.

The basic curriculum should be supplemented with life skills such as Internet research, critical thinking, creativity, service orientation, financial literacy, health literacy and effective communication.

These students can complete Class XII with dignity and move on to skill diplomas in hospitality, healthcare, journalism or choose technical diplomas in welding, hardware repair, carpentry and so on, instead of being made to feel defeated and inadequate.