Thursday, September 10, 2009

Exam se No Exam

The Ministry of Human Resource Development, on Monday, announced that Class 10 examinations of the CBSE would be optional from the academic session 2010-11 while the grading system will be introduced this year itself. This has sent waves of cheer and relief among many students and their parents, who along with their children have to spend many sleepless nights because of the trauma of the Board examinations. 

On a superficial level, this ‘path-breaking’ move might seem to ease the pressure of lakhs of students who appear for the Class 10 boards every year. But looking into the real problem of Indian higher education system, it’s difficult to say whether this would be of much help to the students. If one tries to find out the reason behind the fear created by the Board exams, one would know that it’s not the pressure of the exams but the pressure of admissions into good schools and pre-university colleges/ institutes which leads to the high mental stress among the students. So, just scrapping the Board exams would be of no use if the students have to face the same, if not more, competition after school. And moreover, if one wants to switch schools, he or she would have to give the exam.

For the last two years of my school life (i.e. after Class 10), I studied at Delhi Public School Bokaro Steel City and on the basis of interaction with my classmates and other students over there, I can easily say that the old students who were studying in the school from before Class 10 didn’t actually feel as much pressure about the Board exam as the ones who took admission after Class 10. Clearly, it was not the absence of exams but the security of studying in a good school which eased the pressure off the students.

Similarly, the proposed grading system (to be introduced from this year itself), which is again supposed to take the pressure off the heads of the young students, may actually increase the pressure sometimes. At IIT Roorkee, where I study currently, the grading system is followed which is devised in such a manner that the top few (up to 10% of the total strength to be precise) students with the highest marks get the highest grade. So, what actually happens is that the students end up fighting with the subject teacher to get every extra half mark, even on a subjective answer. And they are very reasonable in doing so owing to the fact that this half mark sometime may help him get a higher grade. For example, the elective course of Group Dynamics, the grading was so done that a student with a score of 81.5 scored an A+ while one with 78.5 could only manage a B+. Thus, an actual difference of 3 marks out of 100 resulted in a difference of 2 grades on a 10-point scale. Is the competition decreasing here? Doesn’t look to me!!  Moreover, the MHRD has proposed ‘continuous, comprehensive evaluation’ of the students for grading purpose. But to be honest, this ‘continuous, comprehensive’ evaluation is difficult to attain even in the best colleges of the country like IITs. So, it is really difficult to say whether this scheme of continuous evaluation would be successful at the school level or not.

And what happens after Class 10, when the student reaches Class 12? He/she has to sit for the Board exams then. And the pressure would increase now as students won’t have any experience of giving Boards before. So, finally, the student is again on the receiving end.

So, instead of dealing with the problem from the outer level, the MHRD should have tried to go a little bit deeper. And instead of scrapping the exams, it should have taken steps to ensure that students get quality education in good institutions after Board exams even if they are not able to perform exceptionally in them. We need more good quality institutes, and not less exams.

Sibalji, I hope you are listening!! 

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