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Fear of no exams

india Updated: Sep 13, 2009 02:04 IST
Swaha Sahoo and Gargi Gupta
Highlight Story

In 2007, Bollywood saw a rare phenomenon — a movie without a leading lady, villain, or stunt that became a box office success. Taare Zameen Par told the story of a dyslexic but artistically talented boy who finds redemption in a cruel percentage-and-marks obsessed school system through the intervention of a dedicated and creative teacher.

For students in 11,000 schools across India affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), that cruel marks-oriented world is changing. After 2010, there will be no Class 10 board exams. As Ameeta Wattal, a member of the CBSE committee on examination reforms and principal of Springdales School, Delhi, says, the new grading system would change the current balance between academics and co-curricular activities.

A sportsman will no longer be expected to give up his passion for cricket or basketball just because he has to focus on the board exam. A dancer will get recognition for her skills. Another student’s poetry or leadership skills will reflect on his/her report card.

Not everyone’s rejoicing at this, though. In fact, 50 per cent of respondents in an HT-Cfore survey across seven cities said the Class 10 board exams should not be scrapped.

“Scrapping the Class 10 board exams is not a good thing because it will take away the competitive spirit,” says Ravi Shankar Naik of Vidya Bal Bhavan School in Mayur Vihar Phase III, one of Delhi’s less tony areas. The 13-year-old son of a chauffeur wants to become a civil engineer.

But won’t it be really nice if he got better grades for his badminton, a game he so loves that he comes to school at 6 am, an hour-and-a-half before school starts, to practice at the courts? His eyes shine at the prospect but it’s too far-fetched for him to imagine.

Most students that the Hindustan Times spoke to echoed Ravi Shankar’s reservations. The seven-city survey confirmed that a majority of students, parents and teachers feels that students will become less competitive without board exams (see box).

The things students will be graded on have also caused some concern. Sakshi, a student of Class 9 in Amity International School in Saket, is not impressed with the fact that, under the new grading system, she can get academic credit for behaving well with her teachers and schoolmates. “It just means that those who can butter the teachers better will get better marks,” says the girl who scores a high 91-93 per cent in her exams.

Teachers have additional worries. Brother Felix, principal of Loyola High School, Patna, feels schools have been rushed into the changes.

“We are not ready to adopt these changes... How can they (the Human Resources Development ministry) expect us to make such big changes in so little time? Our concern is that our teachers are not prepared yet to accept these changes,” he says.

HRD minister Kapil Sibal, however, told HT, “There is a year and a half to prepare for the new system, the preparations for which are on in full swing, and sufficient time is there.”

A lot of parents are not convinced.

“My biggest fear is that teachers are not clear about what is expected of them or us. Do they even know how to evaluate a child on his skills?” asks a worried Ketan Sabrawal, whose daughter studies in Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Chandigarh.

It is a valid fear, says Ashok Ganguly, former CBSE chairman who introduced continuous evaluation in junior classes. “There is a rational fear that evaluation will turn subjective. The credibility of internal evaluation in Indian schools is very bad since the competency level of teachers has never been raised,” Ganguly says.

He adds that a two-day workshop would not be enough to change attitudes that have been built out of the rote learning system.

“Guidelines have to define continuous and comprehensive evaluation very clearly. The CBSE has to prepare teacher manuals for different levels and give in-depth training on how to use the grading system,” says Ganguly.

The current CBSE chairman Vineet Joshi, however says teachers and students are accustomed to the system. “All schools have been following continuous evaluation till Class 8. And to ensure proper implementation in Class 9 and 10 we will form teams which will conduct random verification in schools,” he says.

The challenge is bigger for the 3,000 government schools, including the Kendriya Vidyalayas and the Navodaya Vidyalaya. Struggling with big class sizes and first generation learners, government school teachers can rarely turn to parental support and involvement.

Experts also question the future of the reforms. Will the Class 12 Board exam be reformed to ensure it does not test rote learning?

Sridhar Rajagopalan, president of Educational Initiatives, which conducts assessment tests across private and governments schools, feels that despite the changes, if students and teachers have to face the existing exam pattern in Class 12, they would just go back to learning by rote.

At present, there is no move to change the Class 12 exam pattern.

— With inputs from Alka in Patna and Rajiv Mullick in Lucknow