Millennium Post

Testing in step with the times

The Central Board of Secondary Education’s (CBSE) attempt to bring in reforms in the education system by introducing open book examinations is a welcome step. Indeed school reform initiatives till date have always stressed on the importance of reconfigured curriculum and the content adapted to the newer realities, but have never, unfortunately, dissected adequately the form and structure of course patterns and how knowledge is imparted at primary, secondary and higher secondary levels. More or less, the focus has always been on rote learning, which is learning by heart and memorising dates, information, equations and other things at the expense of understanding and comprehending the ideas that form the fundamentals of school education.

Essentially, our primary and secondary level knowledge dissemination has banked on last minute preparations and regurgitating the mugged up answers during examinations, which test only one kind of ability ignoring many other skills needed for comprehensive and holistic evaluation of scholarship. Evidently, until now, standardised tests looked at the ability to reproduce knowledge, rather than recreate it through creative and critical inquiry. In fact, traditionally, India has valued smriti and shruti, mnemonic proficiency of memory and oral rendition of texts, in lieu of reconfiguring or rewriting them, even though the latter streak has been a subversive trait running through the underbelly of Indian centuries.

Fortunately, things are gradually picking up and the board has finally got its bearing together with the open text-based assessment making a much-delayed entry into the national examination scheme. In 2009, the HRD ministry first made its intentions of overhauling the tests, with ‘continuous and comprehensive evaluation’ replacing the end-of-the-year rush to fill in answer sheets with crammed up knowledge. Now that the CBSE is moving to quarterly tests aimed at gentler assessments with OBTA, with students now allowed to refer to study materials and solve comprehension, logical reasoning and other analytical problems, it is indeed bound to alleviate much of their pre-examination worries and anxieties. Even though OBTA would amount to only 20 per cent weightage of the final examination, and for now, would be piloted with classes IX and XI, the new system would surely help teachers and students leave behind the days of blind memorising, didactic and dull methods of teaching, rusty tools of acquiring knowledge as well as rigid course structures and uninspiring curricular settings. Moreover, the stoic approach to learning, devoid of joy and participatory fun of education, would also be perhaps done away with eventually, once these reforms pick up steam and start rolling out more steps to ensure better learning through interactive and intersubjective methods. In other words, school education that emphasises on overall growth of children, encourages their vocational and recreational drives and focuses not just on class-to-class promotions is the need of the times.
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