Ask teachers before you say ‘reform’

There has been a long felt need for overhauling the educational landscape in India and bringing in examination reforms, especially in school education. India being the second most populous nation and having the second largest educational system in the world has had a very poor track record in imparting quality education. File photo

Examinations for students have come to almost symbolise the ever-lurking, much-feared predators our ancestors in the jungle tried to tackle. It is the same alarm triggered by the autonomic nervous system that builds up stress levels in children, often resulting in fatal consequences. Inadvertently, parents and the education system seem to connive in heaping pressure on them. It is no surprise that an array of industries and organisations have mushroomed to provide succour to harried students. In order to ward off the examination fear, Karnataka’s Minister for Primary and Secondary Education is considering a novel solution of replacing the present ‘closed book examination’ with the ‘open book exam’ system.

Undeniably, it is intended to be a well-meaning, student welfare initiative which will perhaps light up thousands of faces across the state. Nonetheless, on closer look, it appears to be a grandiose, knee-jerk idea at best for solving a complex, multidimensional problem. Introducing ‘open book exam’ in the school level calls for an altogether different approach to teaching-learning-evaluating methodology requiring long-term concerted efforts from academia. There needs to be a drastic change in the way textbooks are written, curricula are designed, lessons are taught, question papers are structured, answer scripts are evaluated and certifications or grades are provided. This will also require consultations with experts in the field of education, mental health and child welfare.

There has been a long felt need for overhauling the educational landscape in India and bringing in examination reforms, especially in school education. India being the second most populous nation and having the second largest educational system in the world has had a very poor track record in imparting quality education.

As per the Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), India ranks very low in the education index, worse than many underdeveloped countries. It speaks very poorly of our focus, rather the lack of it, on one of the most important means of human development, making a mockery of the oft-touted dream of a developed India.

In such a milieu, it is baffling to see our elected leaders make sweeping, ill-crafted statements and float lofty ideas regarding changes in education system, most of which are impractical and ludicrous. The recent statement by Union HRD minister Prakash Javadekar on halving the CBSE curriculum in order to make education less burdensome is a case in point. What good it will do to the dwindling standards and quality of education is anybody’s guess. Education is a serious subject that affects generations, hence it needs to be dealt with equanimity.

The current examination system certainly is archaic, testing memory and not knowledge and creativity. It encourages rote learning that favours a few and discourages a large majority. In trying to rectify this fallacy, several alternative methods of evaluation have been tried by different education boards at different times in the country. Introducing multiple choice questions, project work, comprehensive cumulative evaluation (CCE), testing problem-solving ability and even open book examination by CBSE for a few questions have all been tested in trying to provide relaxed and stress-free environment. None of these methods, however, helped to ease the examination tension or increase the pass percentages, prompting the authorities to eventually roll them back. Another ill-conceived idea was that of making the Class X board exams optional, which had to be reversed this year after eight years of failed experimentation.

All these efforts aimed at bringing the much-needed exam reforms have remained untenable mainly because of the top-down, bureaucratic approach to our education system. Such an approach is fraught with systemic failure. Any initiative, good or otherwise, remains vulnerable to change with the change of guard at the top echelons of power. The next in power often terminates the predecessor’s initiative, bringing in new, naïve, untested ideas. It is unfortunate that rarely ever, suggestions are taken from teachers on the ground, who understand the differential abilities of their wards, who deal with everyday challenges of classroom teaching, who evaluate student performances and, in reality, are the actual crusaders of change.

Modifications in the education system, be it in curriculum, pedagogy or the evaluation pattern, cannot be brought about instantaneously merely by dint of a government order, however pressing the need be. It has to be a more measured, deliberated and methodical process meant to ensure well-rounded, equitable growth of learners on a long-term basis.

To make a qualitative shift in education, urgent administrative interventions are sought from policymakers and the bureaucracy in teacher recruitment, training and prompt filling up of vacancies, budget allocation and utilisation for amenities and infrastructure development, designing welfare schemes to benefit larger sections of society, monitoring administrative machinery, etc. Academic decisions like examination mode, curriculum content, lesson plan, weight of school bag, etc., are best left to the experts in the field.

(The writer is Director, Eudaimonic Centre, Bengaluru)

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Ask teachers before you say ‘reform’

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