Though unveiled in the aftermath of the supposedly receding pandemic, there is an element of the decidedly disingenuous in the bifurcation of the English literature syllabus for ICSE (Class 10) and ISC (Class 12). Hitherto, Eng. Lit, so to speak, was the only discipline whose syllabus had mercifully not been bifurcated or tampered with. Carried to a quirky conclusion, it is hard not to wonder if even novels of Charles Dickens, for example, will be bifurcated, not to forget longish poetry. Wednesday’s circular, issued by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations, states that the decision to bifurcate what is to be taught and (hopefully) learnt from the examination year 2024 was taken in May at a meeting of the standing committee of examinations of the CISCE.
But the need to encourage a comprehensive knowledge of the subjects appears to have been relegated to the footnotes in course of the search for learning. Hence the breathless fatwa, now being circulated to schools, will envisage the study of Acts I and II of The Merchant of Venice in Class 9, and Acts III, IV and V of the play in Class 10. Only the syllabus prescribed for Class 10 will be tested for the ICSE board examination. There can be no contrived shortcut in the study of Shakespeare or any other immortal heavyweight in English Literature. Such bifurcation of a Shakespearean play is difficult to beat and is unheard of anywhere else in the country, not the least because the terminal examinations will be a farcical exercise.
The short point must be that the play, as indeed all plays and tragedies by Shakespeare, must of necessity be studied in their entirety, not in instalments, and not merely for the purpose of the first public examination. More basically, students need to appreciate the playwright’s craft. And the first public examination will be held at the threshold of the crucial transition from school to senior school and college. Thoroughly undesirable is the two-in-one approach that is sought to be followed, indeed dividing a play into two parts instead of seriously initiating an essay towards a comprehensive appreciation of Shakespeare. There can be no cutting corners in academics.
We do realize the need to lighten the burden on the students after two years of academic dislocation (2020-22). But it is hard not to wonder how it is feasible to study portions of a play and not the entire play? This seems ridiculous in the extreme though it has been argued that the fresh matrix will ease the pressure on science students who prepare for engineering and medical entrance exams. Not wholly unrelated to the breathless initiative is to prescribe the study of Acts I and II of The Tempest in Class XI and Acts III, IV, and V of the play in Class 12. Let us leave Shakespeare alone. He must be spinning in his grave.