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Board exams are ineffective tests of skills

education Updated: May 26, 2010 09:29 IST
Dr Shyam Menon

Certification after class X Board examination matters most to those students who terminate their studies after ten years of schooling. A few fortunate ones among them manage to enter the world of work at the lowest rungs in the organised sector. A small subset demonstrates some tenacity to pursue a short stint of vocational training before entering the job market. Apart from these relatively better-off kids, a large segment drifts into the twilight zone between employment in the unorganised sector and unemployment. For all these kids, the class X Board examination and the certification that comes with it is of some utility.

The irony, however, is that much of the hue and cry against the proposal to scrap the Board examination at class X level comes from the middle class, for whose kids the 12 years of schooling is an indivisible monolith. The majority of these families prefer their kids to continue in the same schools during ‘plus two’. The Board certification is of hardly any use to these children. My sense is that the anxiety demonstrated by middle-class parents is merely due to a fear of the unknown.

Good schooling facilitates a wide spectrum of learning possibilities including intellectual-process skills, social skills, physical abilities and aesthetic sensibilities. What a board manages to assess through its 'written-examination-of-two-three-hours-at-the-end-of-the-term' format is, however, only a narrow band of skills, mostly those related to memorisation of information. On the other hand, a school-based evaluation system, if done well, can effectively focus on the entire spectrum of learning with its ‘continuous and comprehensive’ format.

Many argue for the continuance of Board examinations since they apparently serve as a practice round for competitive examinations. This is rather flippant. In any case, the competitive examinations, the best among them being the JEE, themselves need to be revamped. They also lean heavily on short-term memory. Research demonstrates that an unacceptably high chance factor operates in them rendering them hardly effective predictors of aptitude for the professional programmes for which they are the gatekeepers.

The author is a professor of education at the University of Delhi, and currently on a deputation as vice-chancellor of Ambedkar University, Delhi