Noose around young necks

Noose around young necks

May is that month in the year when results of the dreaded Board examinations hit the headlines. The subsequent spate of suicides and nervous breakdowns among students causes both dismay and concern. In this context, the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry’s move to scrap the Class 10 Board examinations has been welcomed by many. But has the ministry missed the wood for the trees?

First, Class 10 demarcates the end of broad-based basic education and the beginning of partial specialisation. Assessment in this examination defines the minimum requirement for continuing education.

Second, admission to pre-university and higher secondary courses based on grades given by different schools is mind-boggling. Pre-university colleges and higher secondary schools are understandably unhappy with the ministry. Then again, individual college entrance tests may be subjective but common entrance tests introduce mediocrity. It is easiest to have admissions based on the evaluation by a neutral third party viz, the SSLC/ ICSE/ CBSE Board exams.

This is why a common examination should be held at the Class 10 level. Of course, any school can choose to raise the bar, which makes it a respected and reputed institution. However, in doing so, it need not pressurise students into scoring absurdly high marks. Hundreds of schools across the country shut the doors of Class 10 on academically poor students in Class 9. Some even refuse hall tickets to those who fare badly in the Class 10 preliminary exams. So do Class 9 exams become co-accused in the case and warrant removal?

In reality, Class 10 exams are just the first in a series of tests for some students. Neither appearing for the examinations nor the resultant marks are as traumatic as the implications of the marks.

If Indian society is divided into three broad categories based on material wealth, the importance of high scores is felt most by the middle class.  The upper class with wealth sufficient to last a few generations and social status given gratis, can excuse poor school performances. The lower class who live from month to month — mostly on verbal credit arrangements — also tolerates low scores. Failure in one or two subjects is accepted and taking the supplementary exams is common. But for the urban middle class, who have a modest income and who carry the cross of respectability, training that guarantees employment is of paramount importance.

The most traumatised students belong to this class. Poor scores or (God forbid!) failure in Class 10 sees the family flag flying at half-mast and family members in self-imposed mourning. On the one hand, these ‘educated’ families devour articles on the ‘difficult teenage years’ and, on the other, brainwash their teenagers into believing  that the Class 10/ 12 exams are the make-or-break point in their lives. In the last few decades, this section of society has carefully and methodically built a vicious stairway — a step-by-step protocol — for their children, to gain a respectable position in society.  
Good scores in the Class 10 Board exams ensure admission into the science stream and then medicine/ engineering courses in reputed colleges. Graduation from these institutions (IIT-IIM being the most coveted combination) translates into good job prospects, and a higher ranking in the marriage market. Analysed thus, it is not difficult to comprehend the tremendous stress on these 15-year-olds. The impact of the marks they score is felt over the next 15 years of their lives!

Consequently, the country has witnessed an emasculation of courses associated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, introduction of a redundant term of ‘professional’ courses (are other courses ‘unprofessional’?), mushrooming of private engineering and medical colleges, capitation fees and spurious degrees.

The only remedy is awareness, acceptance and appreciation of all professions. Knowledge that is acquired can be used in many ways, and the world needs different people to do different jobs. Ultimately enterprise wins over education, so why attach so much importance to one examination?
It is evident that schools, colleges and society are accessories before and after the fact, aiding and abetting student trauma. Making examinations the scapegoat is not going to help solve the problem.

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