Reducing the burden of learning

The Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) has decided to centralise its valuation scheme for the ICSE and ISC examinations “to make the evaluation system more transparent”. The new system, which will replace the existing manual one, is designed to reduce errors. Selected teachers will assemble in their respective marking centres to evaluate the performance of students drawn from across the country.

Established in 1956 to conduct the University of Cambridge Syndicate’s examinations in India, the council has enjoyed the reputation of training high academic achievers in various fields. Its affiliated schools have also enjoyed an unbroken record of scholastic success.

Even though their outdated teaching and learning methodologies left much to be desired, they still shone by comparison with the plethora of substandard institutions. It is a pity that the council has now decided upon a rigid and unimaginative evaluation scheme when the present day trends in meaningful education point to decentralisation of authority to improve schooling. This move defies all accepted norms of teaching and learning since the education of a child calls for sensitivity rather than an inert, bureaucratic approach.

Decentralisation

The CSISC has argued that its present move will decentralise authority from the centre to the school. This is a misnomer, as the schools will only end up editing the data supplied by the centre. Teaching, learning and evaluation are three important components of a child’s schooling. They form an uninterrupted course where the teacher unfolds a whole world of knowledge and experience to a student who, in turn, assimilates it and responds according to her capability.

The evaluation of such teaching and learning is the last step. It not only examines how much the student has absorbed, but it also assesses how well the teacher was able to transfer that knowledge. It is an examination for the teacher as much as for the taught. Such an examination has to be a continuous process inside and outside the classroom involving both teacher and pupil. It cannot be a one-time annual affair, much less a centralised one, where a total stranger evaluates a child’s talent on the basis of carefully calibrated answers written in response to stereotyped, may be multiple choice, questions.

According to the national education policy of 1986, which the ICSE/ISC courses claim to follow, there must be “a continuous and comprehensive evaluation that incorporates both scholastic and non scholastic aspects of education”.

The CISCE must also distinguish between the workload of students and standards of attainment. Today, the workload is heavy and the standards low. Educationists have repeatedly advised reducing the former to give more space for games, sports and cultural activities all of which develop a complete personality. In fact, everything that a student learns need not be examination-oriented.

Wisdom

These courses should prepare a student for higher studies as well as the world of work. Today, parents look for ICSE schools in the hope that the child will be competent to take more examinations at the national level. This exam-driven type of education is no education.

As Yashpal, chairman, National Advisory Committee, rightly observes, children receive the message as soon as they start schooling that the only thing which matters is one’s performance in the examination.

Since the council has been listed in the School Education Act as a body conducting public examinations, one can understand this undue importance given to them — sometimes at the cost of education itself.

Perhaps, we can take a leaf out of the UK’s 1988 National Curriculum. It comprises 10 subjects of which English, mathematics and science are the core subjects. The children are informally tested and graded outside the stifling atmosphere of the examination hall by their teachers in three key stages of schooling that involve practical projects as well.

At 16, they are eligible to take the GCSE whose main purpose is to give a student opportunity to make informed choices about his future education or work plans. On the contrary, subjecting young people to the trauma of formal examinations which hardly reflect their real talents and aptitudes is a meaningless farce. It is a mockery of education that benefits neither the child nor society.

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