SSLC exams: Learn more, score more

Moot point

 The SSLC exam should not limit itself to being a test of memory. DH Photo

The Karnataka government has decided that the pattern of question papers for the State School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) examinations for 2009-2010 will be changed. Students will now be required to answer 75% of the questions in some detail and will have only 25% of multiple choice questions (MCQ). The reform is based on recommendations from the Centre for Educational and Social Studies (CESS) and the Dr Srikanta Swamy Committee.

Yesterday once more

Why this change? And, how is the change likely to affect students? The ongoing debate whether the SSLC examinations should be made easier, or made more challenging continues with fervour. 

At a recent press conference, Primary and Secondary Education Minister Vishveshvara Hegde Kageri said, “The decision to revert to the traditional pattern has been taken with a view to laying emphasis on the written skills of students. The examinations should not be limited to being a memory test and should be an evaluation of the knowledge and skills acquired by the student.”

The pattern was  changed in 2006 in favour of MCQs to allow more students to pass the SSLC examination. There was a dramatic improvement in the pass percentage after MCQs were introduced. In 2008-09, the SSLC question paper pattern had 40 marks for descriptive questions and 60 marks for objective questions. This pattern was based on the recommendations of the Prof Jayalakshmi Devi Committee.

Students writing the examinations did well in the past few years because: (Choose one answer):

*They could randomly choose answers from the multiple choice offered.

*Teachers taught them to think sharp.

It took less time to answer objective type questions.

*Students did not have to know how to use language to write essay type answers.
 However, there was a corresponding dip in the Pre-University Certificate (PUC) results. Having either mugged or guessed most answers in the SSLC examinations, the sudden necessity to answer questions based on their learning posed a problem to many students.

‘Questions don’t matter’

At a workshop organised by the Centre for Education and Social Studies and the Karnataka Secondary Education Examination Board (KSEEB), CESS director Vignesh N Bhatt said, “High school students find the SSLC exams extremely easy. It is just (a test of) rote memory and one cannot extract quality inputs from these students.

Communication and expression are extremely important at the high school level and mere objective-type questions will not give scope to these two aspects. At least 30 marks for MCQs and 70 for descriptive will be ideal.”

“I welcome the move,” says Ananthasri K, a Class 10 student of Little Angels Modern High School. “If students are taught well, and they are interested in learning, it does not matter what kind of questions we are asked. Now, students will have to understand concepts and write answers based on how much they have understood. This will definitely help us to do well in the PUC exams and in other entrance tests later.”

Urban advantage?

“Rural students are going to suffer,” says Sumathi G S, a teacher in ITI Central School, Doorvaninagar. “The intention to have essay-type answers based on knowledge rather than guesswork is good, but with 60 per cent objective type questions, most rural students could at least come up to the level of passing SSLC exams,” she explains. 

But her colleague Victoria asks, “Why does everyone think of rural students as incapable of doing well when challenged? Wasn’t the first-rank holder this year a sweeper’s son from a rural area? Literacy, or at least awareness, among rural folks has gone up a lot in recent times. They watch TV, listen to radio, and are as capable of doing well in exams as those in the cities. I think the move to have questions that test their learning is a very good one.”

 “The intention of the department to change the pattern is definitely good. But you can’t change evaluation patterns without changing the way learning happens,” says Maya Menon, Director of  The Teacher Foundation.

She works with several schools, including government schools, to ensure that teachers are empowered to teach in a way that facilitates learning. “When we go to schools we see that learning is happening in a very mechanical manner. Students either use guess work to answer multiple-choice questions, or memorise answers. Most often, teaching too is about helping children to mark and memorise the right paragraph. Unless they actually change the way teaching and learning happen, and unless children are taught to think, one cannot expect a change in the way they answer questions.”

No change in teaching

“Good teachers have always taught with the intention of helping students to gain knowledge,” says Anuradha, a Class 10 teacher at ITI Central School. “The passion for teaching does not change just because the pattern of question papers change. In any case, students are used to writing longer answers in the previous classes. If they are taught well, then what prevents them from giving longer answers to questions in Class 10?”

 PG Dwarakanath, retired principal of Vidyavardhaka Sangha, Rajajinagar, is one of the people who had been fighting for an 80:20 mix of questions in favour of descriptive answers. Along with other like-minded teachers, he had submitted a report to the Srikanta Swamy committee.  This passionate veteran is happy the department has decided to reduce the number of objective-type questions.

“My experience with students tells me that nothing is too difficult for students. It is just about teaching them well. They are following the 60 per cent objective-type pattern in classes 8 and 9. These will be changed too in due course. But students can easily tackle papers that require them to write more. We have to believe in the students’ capacity to learn. Only, teachers need to do their work better,” he explains. So what is the right mix of questions? We are awaiting answers to that.

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