CBSE exam reform: Pitfalls of not involving stakeholders

Today, its avid use in the field of education than ever before is not surprising. The education system in our country leaves much to be desired and a rethinking on many aspects is the call of time. The curriculums, pedagogy, teacher-student rapport, evaluation methods, need to keep pace not only with changing times and societal needs but also benefit from growing technological resources.

However, the pace at which changes are being brought about both in school and higher education raises certain pertinent questions and serious concerns. An immediate point in case is making the X standard CBSE board examination optional. More than 11,700 schools spread across India and 23 other countries are affiliated to CBSE, making it the largest board overseeing school education in the country.

This year is witness to the first batch of ‘liberated’ students. Exercising a choice was seen as a panacea of sorts from examination stress, therefore most students were expected to stay away from exam halls.  Yet a larger number of students took the exam than opting out, defeating the very purpose for which it was intended.

In fact, there has been an increase in the number of students appearing for the exam by 14.98 per cent compared to 2010. Apparently, students reasoned, quite sensibly, that they would rather face the exam devil than the deep sea of uncertainty and constricted future. This trend is likely to continue in the coming years too. Stress or otherwise students will opt for board exam in large numbers, proving such option is no option at all; this too will pass as another failed experiment.

Granted that examination has been the single largest factor for stress among students, but this decision is akin to throwing the baby with the bath water. While all boards continue to hold board exams, CBSE students who opt out are unwittingly put to a disadvantage. Prior to taking such a step it was necessary to initiate a unified policy decision across boards in the country towards such a move. Necessary provisions should have been made for students who opt out to continue further studies anywhere not just in CBSE schools.

Further, before bringing a change of such a magnitude, it was important for the board to hold extensive discussions with a sizable number of stakeholders namely teachers, parents, students, representatives from higher education as well as industries that will ultimately employ these students.

It is not enough to interact and share innovative practices in education with a select group of principals and senior teachers; it amounts to tokenism at best. Sadly, teachers in the CBSE schools are a confused and burdened lot. For instance, they are finding it extremely difficult to make sense of the new continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) that is not only cumbersome but excruciatingly tedious. Absence of clear cut guidelines is only adding to their woes.

Reforms needed

Moreover, any change in the form or pattern of examination cannot be brought about in isolation; it has to be preceded by adequate reforms in curriculum, evaluation technique, teacher training policies, administration procedures, and most importantly change in student mindset.

Teachers who are the most important link in this new scheme of things, the actual foot soldiers and on whose shoulders lie the entire responsibility of implementing it, need to be consulted, involved and empowered. They require orientation through refresher courses or workshops.

Regrettably, such process is conspicuous by its absence. Evidently, such an important decision affecting millions of students in the country has been made in undue haste exposing a Tughlaq-like mind-set of decision makers in the board.

Of course, CBSE is not the only educational body  that has a claim to such skewed thinking, it is an accepted practice in every level of education — schools, colleges as well as universities. Changes are brought about in these hallowed systems, almost always in a top down approach.

Although teachers are hardly ever involved in the process of change their share of blame for poor quality of education is the largest. It is time to realise that not involving teachers in decision making will cost dearly. Any new initiative will remain lackadaisical, flawed and diluted without their active involvement as has been happening through years.

Unfortunately, education now is treated like any other sector in our country; it is fraught with top heavy, rigid bureaucratic style of functioning. Applying management techniques to production houses and various administrative machineries perhaps work well, but the same when used in the area of education must be done with great tact, sensibility and caution. This area unlike any other is more complex, ushering changes that much more difficult, to witness outcome of reforms take longer and stakes of erroneous judgment is much higher.

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