In the last few days there has been intense debate over Mr. Kapil Sibal’s (HRD Minister) proposal for reforms of the education sector and his decision to make optional the Class X board exams. As a matter of fact, a debate on any subject is good as it is symbolises a need for change and the recognition of a problem. When it comes to our education system, we all know that there exists a big problem, but many of us are reluctant to take any action, maybe out of the fear for the unknown. For this, I give credit to Mr. Kapil Sibal for highlighting an issue that deserves the nation’s full attention and championing the cause for improving the Indian Education System. I wish him all the success.
As the outset, I would like to highlight that this proposal is not the brainchild of Mr. Kapil Sibal. The proposal is the prime recommendation of the National Curriculum Framework 2005’s (NCF-2005) dealing with Examination Reform. Newspapers have mentioned (in passing) but have failed to highlight the importance and central nature of this recommendation in the NCF-2005.
To quote a passage from NCF Position Paper Vol II (page 142)
“Indeed, it is our view that the tenth grade board exam be made optional forthwith. Tenth-graders who intend to continue in the eleventh grade at the same school, and do not need a board certificate for any immediate purpose, should be free to take a school-conducted exam instead of the board exam.”
In my blog dated June 19, 2009 (Knowledge creation – a hostage of our education system) I had highlighted that the two board exams was part of the problem of our education system. The efficacy of the proposal to make the 10th class board exams optional will depend on how well thought-out the final guidelines are and the implementation fine-print. For one, I am a little hazy on how you make an exam optional. The text of what I have read states that “those who do not need a board certificate for any immediate purpose, should be free to take a school conducted exam”. The following two questions come to mind immediately:
* How do we judge (probably 6-12 months before the exam date) whether there is a need or not? How does one tackle the need if it arises, after the child and his family have made a decision not to appear for the board exam? What does one do, say in the case, where a child’s father takes up an outstation position after the date of the board exam, and the child did not to sit for the exam, i.e in the case of a postfacto need? I would think, given the way we operate, things may get a bit messy.
* There is a danger that we may create a class system within the school system – those who have given the 10th class board exam and those who have not. This would be more so, if specific and implementable criterion for taking or not taking the board examination is not specified in the directives. If not approached with sensitivity and caution, there is a possibility that an unjust and inequitable negative perception is created against those who do not take the exam and who may be classified as being inferior to those who do take the exam. In this case society in general, and parents and schools in specific would force all children to appear for the exam thus defeating the very purpose of the amendment.
I would also like to state that abolition of the 10th board exam (at-least for a majority of students who do not have the “need”) will serve limited purpose, if it is not supported by initiatives/reforms at various levels i.e.:
Schools: Schools should use the additional time and flexibility provided by system to initiate programs and teaching practices that develop skills (analytical, understanding, etc) and individuality of the students. Teaching practices should be aimed at educating the mind, body and soul of the student as against the current practice of educating only the mind. To achieve this, there would be a need to relook at how we teach in the classroom and the resources we use. We all know that a lot of our teachers are ill-equipped to make a transition to learner-centric teaching-learning practices from the current “drill-and-kill” approach.
Parents: Parents need to be made aware of the benefits of a holistic education for their children and also to embrace this cause. Currently, parents are only educating their children for 10th class and 12th class exams. Keeping the 12th class exams in its current form will result in parents wanting to educate their children for this exam and the 10th class board exams will continue to be seen as a dress rehearsal for the main event.
12th Class boards: Unless and until changes are also initiated for the 12th class exams, (I am afraid) only limited purpose will be served. As a first and immediate step, there exists an argument for replacing the absolute marking system with the letter grade system. I say this keeping in mind the following:
* I don’t think that a case can be made that a student who has scored 95% in his board exam is in anyway superior that a student who scored 94%. Then why are we promoting this artificial distinction (I also believe that a student who has scored 95% may not be superior to a student who scored 85% – but that is another debate that can be addressed elsewhere).
* Looking at the cut-off marks for admissions into colleges (97% in some courses at some colleges) and the year-on-year increasing trend of these cut-off’s, there isn’t much more manoeuvrability left in the system. Are we expecting students to score 100%, and after they have achieved that – then what?
What the replacement of the percentage system with the letter grade system does is that, to a certain extent, it does away with the artificial distinctions (95% vs. 94%) we make between students. As there will be many students grouped within a letter grade, colleges will be forced to devise methods of selecting students who most meet their admissions criteria – whether through an entrance examination or looking at a student’s overall development (extracurricular participation, contribution to society and environment, etc) or a combination of factors (note: college admission practices would have to be well thought-out as ill conceived admission practices would mean that no progress has been made). How these changes are implemented at the college level will determine the extent to which schools and parents will change their outlook and whose buy-in is critical for achieving any meaningful success in reforming the education system.