Should Class X Board exam be reinstated?
Exams are scary for all children. Children everywhere dread exams and governments and pedagogues have experimented with different strategies to make exams as stress-free as possible. But no country came up with the solution that India did: Do away with exams! No exams, zero tension. It is well-known that learning is directly proportional to the effort made and children make effort to do rather better than others in the exams. Children at this age must learn to make effort and to compete. If there is no examination or competition, why would children put in their best?
Amid thick media discussion and criticism of the government over suicide of some children over bad results at the board exams, the government announced making class X board exams optional. In fact, the news of the board exam being scrapped first came from the Human Resource Development Minister Mr. Kapil Sibal on June 25, 2009 - after only 25 days in the Shastri Bhawan, through a tv interview. This announcement was part of the overarching reform Sibal decided to make in the education sector as part of the 100 days of UPA 2 Government. Later, a committee was formed to look into the issue and make recommendations. The committee also recommended making class X board optional. In seven years of optional board, parents and researchers are crying hoarse alike. Children learn and know much less than expected of them at this level. Did we go wrong in making board exams optional? The answer definitely has to be – yes, we made a blunder. Reform in education should be an outcome of research and analysis and not based on political agenda. There was no research to prove that children who committed suicide (if that was the major reason for making board exams optional) had committed suicide only because of the pressure of the board exams.
We failed to realise our examination system needed reform not scrapping. Why should all children write and pass all papers in one go, like the Board exams we have today? Why can a child not write one paper at a time and write and pass 5 papers in a period of one to five years? Children can also be given the option of writing the same paper as many times as he/she wants to improve his/her performance. We have the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), a national board at par with the CBSE, which has this provision already. Students can learn at their own pace and write their exam at a date and place decided by them, known as “On-Demand Exam”. Learners can pass the required number of papers at their own convenience. In 2009 the then HRD Minister while expressing his concern about the traumatic effect of examination on students had said “We must detraumatise education. It cannot be traumatic for parents and children. This is unacceptable”. He dispensed with the examination altogether. This step was welcomed most by teachers because it took away all the pressure from their shoulder.
If children do not perform, it reflects upon the performance of the teachers as well. The Mudaliar Commission way back in 1953 had recommended “… that as the final public examination is concerned the compartmental system should be introduced. If a candidate fails in one or more subjects of the public examination he should be allowed to take these subjects of the public examination at a subsequent examination ... He need not again sit for subjects in which he has obtained a Pass”(p.125). The board exam is organised every day by NIOS at more than 65 locations across the country at present where students can appear for papers of their choice. The Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan has entered into an agreement with the NIOS through which all its Kendriya Vidyalayas will become examination centres of open school board where board exam will be organised every day.
All children do not have identical capabilities but all are gifted in one or the other area. We need to identify the area in which the child is good. We should have looked at the global best practices in education. In the best performing countries, children are exposed to all types of academic as well as vocational areas in the school itself, and they are allowed to devote more time learning the vocation, the child is interested in. Let us accept that some children may not have the urge and interest to learn maths, physics, chemistry, economics etc. but they may be interested in learning dance, drama, apparel design, beauty culture etc. There should be provision to enable learning of these trades in school. Children not interested in academic subjects can devote more time to learning and practising these vocations. The rigour in both has to be the same. A child interested in academics would love spending time studying the academic subjects and a child interested in vocational areas would also love devoting time to learning the tricks of the trade. The motto should be let the child learn what he/she wants to learn, but all must spend time learning.
We have put all the effort in certifying all these years. Instead, we should have focussed on learning. Learning what the child wants, not what we have provided for. We are witnessing a period of “skilling India”. The emphasis should be on skilling and not certifying skills. There is no point providing a certificate to a carpenter for what he has been doing all his life, but to skill him further in the art of carpentry, and providing facilities in schools for mastering the art of carpentry in the school itself should be aimed. The over-emphasis on certification and that too only in academic disciplines has forced parents to pressurise their children to primarily get a certificate.
Instead of finding a solution to an issue which was not purely academic we tampered with the age-old educational practise. We need to reform the exam system, not dispense with the exams altogether. The Right to Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 under Section 16 prescribes that “No child in a school shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education”; and Section 30(1) prescribes that “No child shall be required to pass any Board examination till completion of the elementary education.” The outcome has been that no child is assessed through any public examination throughout his/her ten years of schooling. This has done irreparable damage to a whole generation of learners who have passed the schools system during this period.
The Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE), the apex policy-making body of the country on education, set up a committee in its 59th meeting held on June 6, 2012, under the chairpersonship of the Minister for Education of Haryana, Ms. Geeta Bhukkal which has now recommended that assessment should become part of elementary education. The Bhukkal Committee has recommended that “While theory and theoreticians may have a strong case for retaining the provision of ‘No Detention’ … the practical reality and experience across the country, across the stakeholders, clearly shows that ground is not ready to receive this positively. In the absence of ground preparation, the intentions of the provisions have not been met at all. Since it is a serious issue related to the future of our children, we must not make any decision in haste. We need to stop, re-assess, and then move forward. At this stage, it would be prudent to reiterate the need for assessment of learning outcomes and make it consequential by linking it to promotion or otherwise to the next class beyond Grade V” (p.18).
It will be interesting to study this generation in times to come but we need to immediately re-examine reintroduction of class X Board examination.
(Chandra Bhushan Sharma is Professor of Education at IGNOU. The views expressed are personal.)