Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, in his enthusiasm to reform the school education system, has decided to de-legitimise the time-tested high school examination by asking around 10,000 Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)-affiliated schools to make Class X board examinations ‘optional’.
The report of the Council of Boards of School Education (COBSE) — which represents over half a million schools — stated: ‘There is no general consensus among Boards on making Class X exam optional at present.’ Sibal followed it up by holding a meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education, which also put a seal of approval on making the exam ‘optional’ for CBSE-affiliated schools.
The flimsy and non-academic argument is that Class X exams are ‘stressful’ for students. What’s forgotten is that Class X students are mature enough to understand the advantages of an externally conducted examination. Incidentally, Sibal seems ignorant about the vagaries of the subjective factors involved in the process of ‘internal assessment’.
Incidentally, the demand for making the board examination ‘optional’ hasn’t originated from half a million school teachers. It has neither come from any other stakeholder nor from ‘above’ as a government dictum.
Further, Indian schools represent — even reflect — our national diversity. There is a reality which exists beyond CBSE-affiliated schools. Many children from lower middle- and middle-income groups receive formal education up to the tenth standard in schools located in small towns or semi-urban centres. These schools lack basic infrastructure and teachers, too, are ill-trained.
Also, a large number of students in these areas are ‘first generation learners’ and, so, require individual attention and extensive care. Thus, the need for an external examination by state education boards is felt in such schools because it creates a sense of discipline among teachers and prepares students for Class X board examinations.
This move will lead to confusion in schools where some students will go for the ‘optional’ exam and others would choose board examination. Will teachers teach two groups of students in one class? Is it a sound pedagogic system? The high school examination certificate carries a great tradition and is rooted in sound philosophy of the educational system. By focusing attention only on the CBSE schools, our policy makers are ignoring this reality.
This experiment should be put in cold storage and the system of examination by external agencies should continue at the school level. If the Class X examination is ‘stressful’, all examination systems should be abolished or made optional, for ‘stress’ is not restricted to high schools alone.
The views expressed by the author are personal.