28 May, 2020
15 Min Read
A moment to trust the teacher
By, Krishna Kumar is a former Director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT)
A public examination in the middle of the novel coronavirus pandemic is hard to imagine. That is what the government of Tamil Nadu has decided. It will conduct the Grade X board examination from June 15.
Special arrangements made by Tamil Nadu government:
# These include sparse seating to meet the medical requirement of physical distancing between candidates.
# No more than 10 will sit in a room.
To enable this to happen, the number of exam centres has been radically increased from over 3,000 to 12,690.
# In the discourse of public exams, children mutate into “candidates”; their names are replaced by roll numbers, schools become exam centres and teachers turn into invigilators.
# Every child knows how to behave in the examination hall.
# All examinations follow a strict ritual that has remained unchanged for over a century. A board exam has little to do with education or learning.
# The values it encourages children to imbibe are all negative à “The prominent ones are fear of failing, sacrifice of joy and selfish competitiveness and submission to an opaque system”.
# The urgency felt by the Tamil Nadu government to take the Class X examination in the middle of a health emergency can only be understood as the expression of a mindset rather than reasoning. The annual exam is seen as the culmination of the academic calendar.
# The set pattern it follows ensures that the exam questions will have no intellectual substance. They all require rote memory.
# If there is any real purpose these exams can serve, it is to select a few who can proceed further and eliminate the rest.
# This objective is attained by dividing students into “‘pass”–“fail” categories and into divisions based on marks.
A middle path to consider
# This standard argument does not fit the State of Tamil Nadu. The Class X result last year placed more than 95% of the total number of students who took the exam in the “pass” category.
# In several districts, the pass percentage was close to 99%.
# So, the exam does not fulfil the structural purpose that other States, especially the northern States, might have, such as reducing the numbers so that the limited infrastructure for the higher secondary or +2 stage proves sufficient.
# In Tamil Nadu, most children are likely to move on to Grade XI in the same school.
# This is the main ground for the recommendation made in the National Curriculum Framework (2005) for making the Grade X exam voluntary.
# This is a middle path that the Tamil Nadu government can consider this summer. Whenever schools reopen, children who want to take the board exam can do so. Others can carry on in the next grade.
# It is a matter of belief that marks attained in the Grade X Board exam are a reasonable basis for judging who should study what.
# One might consider this as a valid argument if the exam papers and marking scheme of the Grade X exam had some substance.
# The questions are so uniformly inane, and quite a few so mechanistically silly, that a good or bad score shows little more than preparedness for facing the exam.
Example : That is all that the exam judges: Here is a question asked in an earlier exam: “Why is world peace an essential one?” There is a fixed answer to it and the teacher’s job is to ensure that the child gives just that answer rather than say that the question is poorly worded and is, in fact, a bit of nonsense.
The meaning of ‘refresh’
# It is the job of teachers to ensure that every child is all set for the kind of questions that are asked.
# Teachers are rightly complaining that the notice period given for the June exam is much too short to “refresh” the children.
# By “refresh” they mean activate children’s rote memory into performance mode.
# Considering their highly compromised professional and intellectual role, they are right. Had they enjoyed some real autonomy in teaching and assessment, they would have told the government not to worry about using exam scores to sort children into subject streams.
# If you visit the website of Tamil Nadu’s Directorate of Examinations and study last year’s Class X results, you will come across this interesting statement. “The highest pass percentage was recorded in Tirupur district at 98.53 percent, followed by Ramanathapuram with 98.48 percent and Namakkal with 98.45 percent”.
# The pass percentage of the three districts was almost identical.
# No one can convincingly argue that the children and teachers of Namakkal are not as good as Ramanathapuram because the pass percentage of the latter is .03% more. The obvious fact is that all three districts have done well.
So, what exactly is the board asking us to notice by highlighting the micro difference in their pass percentages?
Crisis and change
# Some disasters teach lessons; the experience of going through a crisis can create the desire for reform.
# But it is hard to imagine that the novel coronavirus crisis will create energy for examination reform. A system so well-established as the board exam does not easily yield to pressure for improvement.
# The board system has successfully resisted the criticism and recommendations articulated by countless committees and individuals.
# Even a minor improvement in the exam system will demand an effort sustained over several years during which a regime may change and the officer-in-charge may get shifted or retire.
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