By Rahul Mazumdar:
Recently, the officials of the People’s Republic of China made it clear that they plan to pass a regulation that would make cheating in the nation’s college entrance exam ‘gaokao’ punishable by up to seven years in jail. Obviously, this has triggered a major debate with both proponents and opponents of the soon to be enforced regulation voicing their arguments and concerns. While some cite curbing corruption and ensuring fair selection of students for advocating the law; the ones against say that the quantum of punishment awarded is too stringent and that it would discourage students from reporting incidents of cheating as they would risk sending another student to jail. While there is serious weight behind the arguments of ones against the proposed regulation, one has to accept that at no cost can corruption in such life-changing exams be condoned.
India too has much work at hand in this regard. Recently the nation witnessed another incident of the use of unfair means in exams when the results of two toppers of the Science stream of the 12th standard Bihar State Board Examination were cancelled. The result of a third, the topper of the Arts stream of the same board is under scrutiny after she refused to attend a special interview conducted by the Board citing depression. These toppers were unable to answer a few basic questions posed by the media. An inquiry has also been registered against the college from which all these three students appeared for the State Board exams which also seemingly has an impeccable record with all its students clearing the exam in the first division.
Such incidents, however, are not uncommon. The nation was shocked last year when images of parents and relatives abetting their wards by using illicit means in Board exams surfaced in the media. This incident portrays an alarming sign that such cheating in exams occurs at the behest of guardians, and they are the real culprits of this crime. But this incident also portrays the excessive importance that these exams command and the significance that they can have in determining one’s career. While it would be entirely incorrect to blame exam pressure as the real culprit, we must accept that these single-day performance exams are a very poor indicator of a student’s actual academic potential. Perhaps, the structure and the organisation of these exams needs to undergo a change.
As the exams for almost all the Board exams in India are conducted within a month, there is no parameter to gauge a student’s performance for the rest of the academic year even in classes 10th and 12th, forget about other classes. Thus, an academically bright and consistent student who has one bad day suffers, while a few who join dozens of coaching classes and are trained like animals performing in a circus, might fare wonderfully well. This has also led to the springing up of hundreds of money minting educational factories (the so-called coaching centres) and a race among students to get enrolled in these classes charging exorbitantly high fees. In a few extreme cases, teachers in schools and colleges start their own coaching classes, and the entire course is covered in those private classes and not in actual school and college classrooms. As a result, those not joining these tuitions are disadvantaged.
A refreshing step in this regard was taken by the Central Board of Secondary Education (C.B.S.E). A few years ago the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (C.C.E) pattern was introduced by the C.B.S.E that aimed to replace the current mode of examination by a system that would evaluate the performance of pupils during the entire academic year. Though some criticised the move at that time, many appreciated the much-needed reforms that were introduced by the C.B.S.E. Indeed such a continuous evaluation would drastically reduce the lure of cheating as surely nobody can consistently cheat throughout the year. Further, the conducting of periodic monthly/quarterly exams would inculcate a habit a regular learning by students concurrently as those topics are taught in schools, rather than leaving the entire syllabus pending until the end.
But a major flaw in this system is the over-dependence on the evaluation of schools. While a certain degree of co-operation between schools and the Board is necessary to ensure smooth functioning, giving 70% weightage to the marks allotted by schools (the final Board exam marks have just 30% weightage), the C.B.S.E is walking on a very tight rope. In a bid to inflate their students’ scores and their respective results, C.B.S.E schools nowadays wholeheartedly distribute marks to their pupils as is evident with the alarmingly high numbers of 10 pointers every school manufactures these days. Indulgence in such practices seriously damages the sanctity of these results. Before introducing such a method, C.B.S.E should have introduced checks to guard against such practices.
Overall the state of secondary and higher secondary teaching in India is not in a very good state. As a result, a majority of the students of these schools suffer. This has effects in the long run as a weak foundation affects their performance in universities and colleges and reduces their employability. Barring a few institutes of world-class quality, the Indian education system is characterised by amazing mediocrity. Bringing about reform in this sector is a Herculean task. An appropriate and detailed discussion is required between every stakeholder before introducing any major reform. As India aims to transform into a developed nation, its policy-makers need to ensure that its future generations are not just educated but are imparted a quality education. Because ‘Sirf padhne se nahi balki dhang se padhne se hi badhega India’ (India move forward not only by education but by progressive learning.)