The time I was in school, one’s performance in the Class 10 Board exams used to be placed on a pedestal. Much before they reached that standard, children used to be burdened with expectations regarding outdoing other students, the known ones from the neighbourhood as well as the many unknown ones across the nation.
There were advocates for doing away with the mandatory Board, but so entrenched was the system that such voices themselves considered their cause a lost one.
But then all of a sudden, in 2009, it was decided that the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) exam would be optional. It was a rare occasion when a progressive reform was actually implemented, instead of being perpetually discussed without any action.
But the measure didn't go down well with many, in whose conception of Indian education the Board exam occupied a central position. The society obsessed with the Board readily started faulting the lack of the exam for myriad problems - students being suddenly exposed to exam pressure in 12th standard, students not studying as the incentive of the Board was not there, collusion between schools and students in giving high marks, etc.
Those against the optional Board exam clearly seem to have had their way as the Centre is reported to have made its mind to make the CBSE exam mandatory again from 2018.
As the government braces to take a final call on the issue in the Central Advisory Board of Education meeting scheduled for Tuesday, here is why the Centre should not switch back to mandatory exams.
Reduces school autonomy
Presently, CBSE Class X students have the option to choose between a CBSE-conducted Board exam or school-conducted exams regulated by the CBSE. Under the latter option, schools enjoy greater autonomy than they enjoyed in a centralised system of mandatory CBSE Boards.
But by making the Board exam mandatory again, we will be taking a step backwards in terms of student and teacher autonomy that's so fundamental to a robust education system. More worryingly, a major reason cited for doing away with the exam is that schools are misusing autonomy, so the autonomy needs to be taken away.
The ease with which we discard and suspect autonomy has been a hallmark of most institutions in India. Why can't we understand that the solution to risk of abuse of autonomy is better oversight and not doing away with autonomy? Discarding autonomy to do away with abuse is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
|Many a childhood is lost to toiling for marks. (Photo credit: India Today)|
Promotes rote learning and exam-centric education
If the Board exam is made mandatory, the obsession with exams and the result will get further strengthened.
A fundamental premise of those advocating for the mandatory exam is that without the exacting exam, our education system can't ensure quality. But if an education system becomes so cripplingly dependent on exams for delivering quality, then there is an urgent need to introspect and reconfigure the education system such that learning is done for its own merit and not just for marks.
Instead, what we are proposing to do is make exams more central to our education, thus worsening the problem.
Burdens children - robs them of their childhood
Another result of mandatory Board exam will be that, what should have been just another step in the continuous journey of education will once more become a destination of sorts. Many children who have been freed from the shackles of expectations or judgmental eyes that the Board result brings, will again be subjected to the trauma.
Once again, all of them will be forced to participate in the rat race whether they want to or not. Many a childhood will be lost to toiling for marks instead of discovering sports, culture and myriad other pleasures that childhood should leave room to explore.
No matter what the outcome, the wonderful period of childhood shouldn't be sacrificed, not at least for some numbers on a marksheet.
By making the Board exam compulsory, and thus promoting obsession with it, we will also sacrifice the ingenuity of our children as only when they are left free to explore can they be creative and innovative.
We should stop believing the myth that burdening students with exams is going to make our children better; if it was so, we would have already had the most well rounded and productive children.
Deprives children and parents of choice
Modern day discourse rightly advocates the importance of promoting choice. The earlier wisdom of a system knows what’s best for you is being replaced by presenting people with feasible choice to exercise according to their peculiar needs. So why should we move backwards with regard to children?
If parents and student truly feel that participating in Board exams will make their child more learned, they will opt for it anyway. And if the fear is that schools inflating marks will make school exams a lucrative option, proper benchmarks and safeguards can be instituted to address this.
It's not my claim that the system of optional Board exams is not without its share of drawbacks. It does have shortcomings, but the solution of mandatory Board exams is a cure worse than the disease. By throttling ingenuity, reducing choice, undermining school autonomy, burdening children and promoting exam-centric approach, it further aggravates the weaknesses in the Indian education system.
Therefore, the wiser course of action should be to improvise on the system of optional Board exams than abandoning it for faults that are there in every system.