I personally believe that interaction is the best way to assess students’ aptitude. You may ask any teacher and they would be almost certain of how to group their students under different categories. For example, they would confidently single out an extraordinary student among them, would never blink while picking up the few best among them, would easily mark the ‘above average’ students, and would not think twice before identifying ‘below average’ students and thus will be leaving out the ‘average students’ with some surety. But when you ask a teacher to rank the same set of students on individual basis, they would then depend on the result of an examination. It seems, we need examinations primarily to rank the students. If you need to select a fixed number of persons among a pool of probables and you have no freedom to select them category-wise then one would be left with no choice but to “somehow” get their ranking.
In a country like India, that is struggling to manage numbers within a category, we tend to completely depend on the ranking of students. Be it entrance-tests of admission seekers or selection from a pool of candidates for a job, we are used to dealing with unmanageable number of applications and in each such cases we depend on the result of a test to rank them. This makes the life of selectors not only very easy but, in India, it most importantly also counters all kinds of possible interference and unwanted influence on the selection process. In my college, on several occasions during the admission days, I have been able to withstand the pressures from influential quarters only by hiding myself behind my inability to defy the ranking decided by marks of the students that they get in the CBSE test.
Marks, Ranks and the real Excellence
Do these rankings reflect their actual standing among the applicants? Many of us will make out that there is a scope to fool one’s own ranking if the candidate is able to ‘somehow’ perform well in a test. Thus, it appears that knowledge and understanding takes a back seat and memory becomes the real factor that ultimately decides the rankings. This analysis makes us believe that ranking has nothing to do with the general aptitude and intelligence of a candidate and it merely reflects their ability to memorize things. We tend to get an impression that those who top the ranking charts are good for nothing except rote-learning. It is at this point that I beg to differ with this understanding. It is indeed interesting to realise that while rankings within the same category are often bound to give many surprises but only occasionally it may even throw an odd result challenging their categorisation too.
Despite the fact that our examination system is designed to rank the students on the basis of their ability to memorize, how does the ranks reflect more or less the same categorization that a teacher interacting with them would prepare on the basis of their overall intelligence? The devil lies in the realization that these examinations become so important part of our life that the students gets encouraged to compete among themselves. In Indian conditions, when all of us know that we would be subjected to pass through some written test or the other at several occasions in our life, students tend to prepare themselves to face these tests. Students who have better understanding, thinking power and are full of ideas and innovations indulge themselves in rote-learning only to prove that they are better. It is due to this reason that most often than not, the top rankers happen to be the best among the lot only. So, can we relax? No, never. As we must also realize that in this process, the examinations are forcing these exceptional and brilliant minds to read and re-read several times to memorize things that they may have had understood by heart in only a few of those several attempts.
The Real Devil
The devil actually lies here, in our examination system, exceptional students and innovators are forced to engage themselves in proving that they are better than those who can only memorize without understanding concepts. Their invaluable time that they could have otherwise invested into innovative thinking is thus wasted only to equip them to prove that they are better than those who are potentially proficient rote-learners. It is for this that only in India, the exceptional student look for solutions and not problems. This compels Indian authors to compulsorily provide solutions in their textbooks as students never get evaluated for how well he/she understands a problem but only by their capability to vomit a clear solution on the answer sheets. Their ability to think, visualize and analyze a problem gets completely overshadowed by their urge to look for ready-made available solutions. To the disadvantage of our country, these traits of our exceptional students remain disappointingly unexplored.
It is not for no reasons that teachers are often asked to give their evaluation and assessment of a student who apply for admissions outside India. Ignoring the marks that a student scores, these institutes depend heavily on teacher’s assessment of the student on a few aspects such as their ability to think, innovative, to communicate clearly, work hard, to be able to work in a group and finally by asking the teacher to bracket them into a category out of all students that they had interacted with. Myself a teacher, I have seen many students, who did not have rankings on their side, to have proved their excellence in the long run once they got admission into a career of their choice.
I would like to conclude this discussion with a remark wherein I just wonder what would those students do who are really exceptional and if they are eventually relieved from going through the useless exercise of proving that their rankings indeed reflect their abilities. Then they would utilize their time by involving themselves in innovations and innovative thinking, ending up with fascinating ideas. But this would happen only when an era will come where students would be able to opt for a career of their choice and when opportunities will eventually outnumber the students. But till that time, examinations are only a necessary evil and we can not afford to abandon this as this helps us all in developing a faith in the system that provides a scope to withstand the interference of influence and power. As only in this system, ward of a ‘rickshaw-puller‘ and daughter of a ‘pan-wallah’ can dream to top the UPSC or the coveted IIT-JEE examination.