In a move that should go a long way towards ridding the country’s schools of the twin plagues of students being forced to learn by rote and cheating during examinations, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is ushering in an educational revolution in the form of an open-book examination system from March 2014.
The Open Text-Based Assessment (OTBA) will be launched as a pilot project for the Class 9 and 11 annual examinations next year and the board has already released the study material for the examination.
The new testing system will cover English, Hindi, mathematics, science and social science for Class 9 and geography, economics and biology for Class 11. In line with the CBSE’s directive, its schools will implement the OTBA system only in those subjects for which study material has already been published.
There are some differences between the CBSE’s version of the open-book examination system and that followed by the IITs, law universities and Bengal Engineering and Science University, as well as many schools and universities abroad.
Under the conventional system, students are allowed to take textbooks into the examination hall and can consult these while answering questions, which are structured to test understanding and concepts rather than mere ability to memorise facts and figures.
The CBSE’s customised version of the OTBA allows instead for students to be given a set of study material four months ahead of the examination. This material will also be printed as part of the question paper and all questions in the examination will be based on it.
In order for the system to work, the OTBA must contain only questions requiring higher order thinking skills, some of which may be subjective, creative or open ended. The format, according to the CBSE, will also discourage cheating.
But schools are not yet very clear about the manner in which the OTBA is to be conducted. “We only recently got the circular and aren’t yet sure how to go about it. I don’t really know whether it’ll help or not and only after the school reopens after the puja vacation will we find out more. But it’s definitely a much-needed step towards discouraging rote learning. Mugging up is no longer of any help. Students now need to understand what they’re studying,” Anjana Saha, principal of Mahadevi Birla World Academy, said.
The CBSE circular to all its affiliated schools states that, “OTBAs are meant to incorporate analytical and theoretical skills, thus moving away from memorisation.”
In order to accommodate OTBA the CBSE has reworked its marks distribution process. Anticipating teething problems with the new system, the board has included a failsafe by deciding to restrict the OTBA’s initial scope to just 10 marks in the annual examinations for classes 9 and 11 in the subjects already mentioned.