-The Indian Express
New CBSE proposals could restore the credibility of teachers as evaluators
This year’s round of college admissions have seen cut-offs in Delhi University soaring to an incredible 99 per cent for several courses. This is not surprising, given the astronomical marks that many students have scored in their class 12 boards. But the clamour around results and admissions throws into sharp relief the structure and content of an examination system that awards such marks.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) recently announced proposals to change the format of the final board examinations. It wants to transform the structure of question papers and the nature of questions. News reports mention that this is in response to the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s unhappiness with the current system, which only encourages rote learning. But “examination reform” has been the theme song of many official policy documents. It is therefore necessary to view the CBSE’s move in the larger context of testing and evaluation of school students.
Examination has become an inescapable part of our educational life. Its place and legitimacy in education has never been questioned. Public examinations, such as the one conducted at the end of the 12th grade, draw a mix of praise and criticism. It is argued that they provide objective, fair, public criteria for selection. But they have also been accused of overloading students with memorising information, depersonalising schooling, discouraging creativity and supporting credentialism. The following observation aptly characterises the current system of public examinations: “The examinations today dictate the curriculum instead of following it, prevent any experimentation, hamper the proper treatment of subjects and sound methods of teaching, foster a dull uniformity rather than originality, encourage the average pupil to concentrate too rigidly on too narrow a field, thus help him to develop wrong values in education. Pupils assess education in terms of success in examinations.” Strange that this was stated by the Mudaliar Commission in 1952.
Reforms in the past have focused on the mechanics of conducting examinations, not on the content and purposes. Switching from essay type questions to objective type questions is one such. The common refrain is that this has made the conduct of examinations a bureaucratic phenomenon, not a professional one. With fixed answers and predetermined model answers even for questions where children have to write phrases and sentences, the job can be done mechanically, making the professional capability of a teacher redundant.
In reality, school boards have tried to do away with all complexities of learner evaluation. Objectivity in the public eye is the sole criterion. The CBSE proposal to reintroduce essay type questions and reduce dependence on memorisation is a welcome step. Remember that this is supposed to evaluate the learner’s accomplishments in 12 long years of schooling. Ideally, one should profile the trajectory of each student’s progress. This can be done only by those who teach children over the years. Will the proposed change lead the public to repose their faith again in the teachers’ ability to be objective and professional in evaluating their students?
The current proposal by the CBSE must be seen in conjunction with another reform recently introduced by the board — Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE), giving weightage to school-based assessment by teachers. What is intended, what is understood by the teachers and what happens in reality — the three could be at variance with one another. Synchronising the three cannot be done through official notifications. But public examinations and admission tests have assumed so much importance that schools are under pressure to prepare the students to face them rather than focusing on personal growth. Strangely, the public seems to have greater confidence in external examinations than in assessment by teachers.
Historically, the imperial administration organised state-controlled examinations to project in the public mind an image of British justice and impartiality. In the system of education established by them, while Indians were included as teachers, their role as evaluators was grossly underplayed. It was considered necessary to have examinations conducted by outsiders, preferably British. Have we overcome this colonial hangover? Continuous undermining of the role of teachers has led to the erosion of their credibility as evaluators. Public perception of poor accountability and teachers’ indifference has accentuated this. In this context, efforts like the CCE under the Right to Education Act and the CBSE’s move to include internal assessment in the board results must be recognised. But will schools and teachers implement the policy sincerely and adopt credible practices? This alone will decide the survival of these new initiatives.
Evaluation, like teaching, must be a human contract — between student and teacher, between society and the educational institution. But our examination system has taken away the human face of education. For the millions who fail to make the grade, school or college is an experience they would rather forget. Bringing back this human face requires many changes in the examination establishment. Examination has to become a creative phenomenon, not a routine mechanical one and teachers have to regain their role as credible evaluators.
The writer is vice-chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Administration