By Itika Singh:
About this time last month, a photograph of cheating in Bihar went viral. It showed people scaling the walls at an examination centre so that they could pass on answers to students inside. The general response was to treat it as an isolated shocking incident, but how true is that evaluation for us? After all, cheating is a socially acceptable practice for us. The last time I came across a person being ostracized for cheating was in moral stories. Generally, students develop varying moral standards on the issue that set the extent to which they’ll go to cheat in an exam (or whether or not they’ll cheat at all).
I have no experience of being a student in Bihar, but plenty of being one in Delhi; and I don’t need to look too far back to quote an instance of cheating. This month, I appeared for my final examination for a French course conducted by Delhi University. The exam was a written one. The students were seated in alternate rows with those appearing for German. As soon as the question papers were distributed, a general murmur emanated from the class and the invigilators made feeble attempts to squash it. From then on, the students made progressively bolder efforts to cheat. Half way into the paper, the refrain of the invigilators had shifted from “Don’t cheat” to “Do what you want, but do it quietly”. This position had diluted even further by the end, so much so that one of the two invigilators made the student behind me sit next to another student of French with the explicit intention of facilitating cheating. After this, other students spontaneously re-arranged themselves. After leaving the exam hall, the students wore expressions of amusement and achievement.
Questions of ethics aside, what does this practice tell us about the flaws in our education system? The great Indian education system has a knack for de-motivating and frustrating those who go through it. Using marks as a means of evaluation has resulted in shifting the focus from learning better to scoring better. There exists a vicious circle of students studying and teachers teaching only for the sake of exams. And why won’t marks be given priority when the system gives so much importance to it? The Delhi University, for example, admits students on the basis of cut-throat cut-offs. Grades are expected to be representative of one’s learning ability, aptitude and passion for a subject. A recent comic video about Delhi University features a student who is haunted with the fear of out on his dream college by just one mark. In such a case, the thought process of a student trying any means possible to score an extra mark or two is understandable. It is also understandable, then, if an invigilator facilitates cheating instead of checking it.
Perhaps a way to fix this flaw in the system is to introduce better means of evaluation. One way can be to conduct evaluation over a period of time to map a student’s genuine progress. This can be complemented by formative assessment, emphasizing on feedback to the student. Also multiple forms of examination can be used to counter the flaws inherent in one form of evaluation. Even in the present form of written examinations, measures can be introduced to test the analysis, comparison, inference, and evaluation skills of students as opposed to merely testing their memory. The underlying idea behind all these forms of evaluation is that evaluation should be treated as a means to an end and not an end in itself. In India, however, another factor that should be kept in mind is that of balancing such individualized assessment with fairness.
Most of the above suggestion may seem distant but some of them are being implemented at various levels. It should be remembered that a complete overhaul of the education system would need structural changes as well as changes in perception. While structural changes may be far off, changes in perception can be triggered immediately.