A test of nerves in virus season

The country seems to be moving more and more into an examination based education system where the testing impedes genuine learning.

 |  5-minute read |   26-06-2020
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The last few days have witnessed a great deal of discussion and debate around the tail end of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) examinations process, which was interrupted at the fag end due to the corona crisis. I find the issue worrisome since it has caused stress for students.

The CBSE has just announced that the affected students must be content with an assessment method for the unexamined subjects through a process that shall take into account their performances in these subjects in the last three school examinations. This is not the best way to assess the students. For one, often students do not pay much attention to school examinations as during that time they are far more focused on preparing for various entrance examinations. Also, examination standards vary immensely from school to school.

More cons than pros

Another concern is that those students who were able to appear in each and every required examination have a major advantage since they had appeared in these examinations after an opportunity for proper preparation. I wonder why the CBSE did not explore a third possibility? To my mind this particular issue is not as vexed as it appears. Perhaps a solution could have been devised along the lines of giving the students a choice.

They could either appear in the residual examination at an appropriate stage-at their own risk-or take as a score for the unexamined subject the average of the best two scores from amongst the subjects for which they have managed to take examinations.

I am aware that there shall be criticisms of this suggestion as well, since on the face of the matter at hand the method bears little resemblance to the student's ability and understanding of the subject in question.

This brings me to the many deeper issues that our systems of examinations generate across the land. I assert that the quality of the CBSE examinations is a source of serious concern. These schoolleaving examinations are beginning to lose their value and relevance. There is hardly any correlation between the scores students secure at the school leaving examination and their actual knowledge of and insights into their school subjects.

Many serious issues

Not many of us educators and thinkers have ever bothered to really ask the pertinent question of the purpose of examinations? I have not come across any serious debate and discussion on the relevance and need of such examinations.

At the same time, the country seems to be moving more and more into an examination based education system where the testing impedes genuine learning. I have not come across any meaningful platform where Indian institutions-read schools and even colleges-have asked if the CBSE examinations really lead to good learning. I notice that generally the effort of a typical school is to ensure that its students perform well in the CBSE examinations. Most such schools do not make any effort to ask or provide feedback on the issue of whether the CBSE examinations encourage and engender true learning.

On the other hand one cannot blame a certifying body like the CBSE too much. It faces many challenges and issues. One major challenge that besets the examination process is the diversity of the student body that appears its examinations. The CBSE has to be consistently alert towards ensuring fairness and quality over a very large as well as a n extremely diverse body of students in social, economic and cultural terms.

I am told that on an average the number of students who sit for the CBSE school-leaving examinations is more than 1 lakhs. We must bear in mind there are other such boards and certifying bodies across our land. These include the Indian School Certificate Examinations and various examining bodies run by agencies of governments across all states. They also face the same challenges that confront a board like the CBSE. The Uttar Pradesh Intermediate Board has approximately 30 lakh students who sit for its examinations each year. The Bihar State Board has almost 20 lakh students appearing each year for its examinations. It is almost impossible to ensure that each of these examining and certifying bodies has a standard and quality that is comparable to the other certifying boards.

The end result is that there is enormous unevenness in the processes. For instance, it is well known that for a very long time the Uttar Pradesh Intermediate Board had a strict regimen when it came to grading students who used to appear for its school-leaving examinations. Thus, the students of the UP Board would be at a disadvantage in comparison to students from other states. This was evident when students of the UP Board would come seek admission to Delhi University. This is because the admissions at DU happen largely on the basis of scores secured in a school-leaving examination. However, it appears that the UP Board has consciously or otherwise made policy changes that ensure a better chance for their students to gain entrance into institutions such as a central university.

Hope for the future

I do see a glimmer of hope through the setting up of the government sponsored National Testing Agency. Ostensibly, it has been established to look into such matters. By all accounts, it has definitely brought a semblance of order and rational thought into the process of testing. I can only wish it more luck and hope that they make a difference in breaking the culture of examinations that are proving so counterproductive to good education.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: How students can help fight coronavirus


Dinesh Singh Dinesh Singh @dineshsinghedu

The writer is former Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University and currently Adjunct Professor of Mathematics, University of Houston, USA

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