'No room for creativity in our education system'

THE INQUIRER

Krishna KumarEminent educationist and Director of National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) Krishna Kumar observes that the present examination system promotes mediocrity rather than creativity. He speaks to Shruba Mukherjee of Deccan Herald on the education reforms proposed by the UPA government. Excerpts:

How do you respond to the government proposal on making Class X board examinations optional?
It is not a new proposal. The National Curriculum Framework had suggested the same thing in 2005. If the child wants to continue his or her studies in the same school, why does he need a board certificate? Why do we need to put so much pressure on the child by forcing him to appear for two board examinations? The NCF very clearly states that under no circumstances should board or state-level examinations be conducted at other stages of schooling, such as class V, VIII or XI. Indeed, boards should consider, as a long-term measure, making Class X examination optional, thus permitting students continuing in the same school (and who do not need a board certificate) to take an internal school examination.

The position paper of the National Focus Group on Education Reforms has also argued against board examinations.
They said the Indian school board exams are largely inappropriate for the kind of citizenry and workforce we need. The quality of question papers is low and they usually call for rote memorisation and fail to assess a student’s capacity to apply reasoning and use analytical skills to make a judgement. Imagination is altogether ignored. Lateral thinking and creativity completely left out. They are also inflexible and based on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ principle as they make no allowance for different types of learners and learning environments.

The present examination system has drawn flak also because it induces an inordinate level of anxiety and stress. In addition to widespread trauma, mass media and psychological counsellors report a growing number of exam-induced suicides and nervous breakdowns.

You said the type of questions should be changed. Can you elaborate?
Under the present system the questions are based on textbooks and they do not require reflection or argument. One can answer the questions simply by mugging up some facts and figures from the book.

For example, let us take a common question like ‘Why Jamshedpur is suitable for a steel factory?’ A child can pick up and memorise three reasons — abundant availability of coal and iron ore, cheap labour and connectivity — and get full marks. But he did not have to think for a while to give this answer.

If we put a question like: ‘An NRI wants to set up a steel factory in say, Haryana. Do you think it is a feasible option?’ Now the child has to think in terms of availability of raw materials, labour, road and port facilities, markets and also vicinity of the nation’s capitals to facilitate official clearances! Evaluation of answers to such a question will be an altogether different exercise than what it is now. If a child can support his argument with proper arguments and information, then she will get a higher grade.

Do you suggest that the system must gradually move towards ‘on-demand exams’?
Yes, public exams should be available more than once. If it is accepted that learners learn at different paces, there is no reason, other than administrative convenience, to test them after two years of higher secondary course in all subjects simultaneously. The students can be allowed to clear some, up to two, for example, subjects at the end of the XIth (or the IXth grade for the secondary examination). They can take another two subjects in the middle of their course. In general, every student should be given a three-year window within which all the subjects must be passed or scores improved. In any one exam session students should have a choice of taking no exam, all the papers or a few.

Education is supposed to be a great leveller, but in India it creates hierarchy. We have municipal schools, government schools, Central schools and the public schools with students coming from different social and economic backgrounds.
The system has got fragmented and often serves as an instrument of exclusion.

Education is a sensitive social instrument. It has to be used judiciously. It is not like distribution of breads that you give two to each child. Education is an experience, which is dependant on so many factors.

Way back in 1964-66 Kothari Commission observed that education should be used as a means of social change and that was why a Common School System was suggested. But it is not only in education that this hierarchical mind of our society is expressed. It is there in the use of tap water and bottled water, postal service and courier.

However, the overall picture has some redeeming features too. We have achieved almost 100 per cent enrolment in Grade I and that is a great achievement even if material and pedagogic conditions in Grade I are a matter of great concern in almost every part of India. Under SSA, the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas are catering to girls from the poorest sections of rural society, including SC, ST, minorities, and other marginalised communities. It is a great scheme though it is running on a minimalist kind of provision. We have a long way to go, but the steps have been taken in the right direction.

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