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Exam reforms and SSLC results

Exam reforms and SSLC results

Karnataka must find a balance between exam integrity and student success

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Last Updated : 26 June 2024, 23:31 IST
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The Class 10 board exams, recently declared by the Karnataka State Examinations Board, hold significant importance in students’ lives as they determine their future paths.

This year, the Department of Education (DoE) focused on maintaining the academic integrity of these exams and improving the overall process. As a result, the overall performance decreased compared to previous years.

There has been widespread criticism and outcry about the decline in results and the increase in grace marks. Some have questioned why strict measures were necessary when students ultimately passed with grace marks. While these views hold merit, the news of declining Class 10 results is a stark reminder of the deeper issues plaguing high-stakes exams and our public education system. 

The Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) exams are a significant milestone in students’ lives. Close to 8.3 lakh students wrote the exam this year. For some, it’s a continuation of their education; for others, it marks the end of their academic journey. This year’s results, even after applying grace marks, have been a wake-up call.

In a few districts, the number of students who passed the board exams dropped by close to 32 per cent compared to last year, significantly impacting many students. In such a situation, there are two possible approaches: publishing the results as they were, leaving many students unable to continue their education, or implementing a normalisation process where students are given grace marks, thereby providing a chance for many to continue their education. Understanding this issue required avoiding a strictly black-and-white view. Restoring integrity shouldn’t come at the expense of many students failing.

The DoE’s measures this year have addressed multiple facets of the examination process — integrity, flexibility, and relevance. Firstly, implementing CCTV surveillance of the board exams was a bold move and ensured fairness and transparency.

Secondly, allowing students to take the exams three times a year and choose their best result marks a significant shift towards reducing the pressure associated with high-stakes exams. This measure shows empathy towards the students’ challenges and gives them multiple chances to prove their abilities.

This year, nearly 2.3 lakh students have enrolled to write the exams again to improve their scores. Thirdly, changing the pattern of the question paper demonstrates an effort to make exams more relevant, possibly more application-based rather than purely theoretical. This is a crucial step towards maintaining high standards in education and better preparing students for future challenges.

In summary, the DoE’s efforts were exemplary as they holistically addressed critical issues in the examination system and were courageous because they involved significant, necessary, but challenging changes, often requiring navigation through bureaucratic inertia and traditional mindsets. 

We must acknowledge that exams are crucial for assessing students’ knowledge and skills while ensuring integrity and fairness. However, excessively high-stakes exams can pressure students, affecting their ability to perform optimally.

By implementing measures to uphold fairness while reducing the consequences of a single exam through multiple opportunities, there is an effort to strike a balance. This approach acknowledges the variability in student performance due to personal circumstances and allows them a fair chance to demonstrate their abilities without excessive pressure. 

Viewing the situation from a different perspective, the provision of grace marks has opened doors for an additional 1.59 lakh students to continue their education, which is a significant number. However, this course of action would not be practical without efforts to support these students through bridge courses and remedial teaching to ensure they can cope with the demands of further education. Increasing the quality of public education requires adequate funding and policies that recognise and support teachers and other stakeholders.

The first step the Karnataka government must take is redirecting resources back to government schools by providing adequate teachers where there are shortages, supporting teachers with the skills and resources for high-quality teaching, ensuring schools receive adequate resources, and bringing the focus back on student learning through short-term and long-term approaches.

Addressing these areas is not just a necessity but a responsibility for creating an effective and equitable educational system for all students. 

The Department of Education in Karnataka should provide a compelling vision of schools that work for the students and implement it sustainably. The most defensible argument for investing in and improving public schools is that they educate future citizens of a democracy and facilitate the development of knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for effective participation in shared governance. Student assessments should always align with education’s deeper purpose, which is to prepare them as active participants in a democratic society.

(The writer leads the Bangalore District Institute at the Azim Premji Foundation)

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