Ishita Rambhiya looked at her Class 10 SSC science paper a few days back. “What are the similarities between a camera and the human eye?” read one question. Rambhiya was foxed. She moved to the next question.
The question that asks SSC students to list similarities between eyes and cameras is the one that cracks open the difference between an exam paper from last year and one from this year. The erstwhile SSC exam, and the current one.
“Questions were not out of the syllabus, but were tricky,” said Bhumika Rambhiya, her mother. “Science textbooks used to be small, now the portion is vast. My daughter spent most of her time preparing for science.”
Two years ago the state board decided that it would upgrade its maths and science syllabus in a phased manner for students from classes 9 to 12. The aim was to bring state board students on par with national board students, who always seemed to do better when it came to competitive exams.
The first batch of students being tested on the new syllabus is sitting for Class 10 exams this season. Next year, the first Class 11 batch will be tested on the upgraded syllabus, and the year after that, Class 12.
The syllabus upgrade comes alongside a series of evaluation changes too— projects and assignments in Class 9, Higher Order Thinking Skills questions in the board exam, and internal examiners instead of external ones.
Teachers, parents and children had complained that the sudden upgrade in Class 9 would adversely affect students. That moment of judgment has come now. “This year’s Class 10 results will prove whether the students were able to cope or not,” said Father Francis Swamy, principal of Holy Family School in Andheri. “Will the pass percentages fall? Let us see.”
The biggest change has been that students can no longer sail through on the boat of rote, when previous years’ questions were repeated verbatim and examiners sought no more than regurgitation. “Earlier, they could get away with mugging, but now they have to understand the concept,” said Vikram Kushalka, director of the SSC division at Sinhal Classes. “We had to drive into them the new approach.”
The movement from Class 8 to Class 9 for the batch giving SSC exams was a quantum leap. “Until then it was quite easy, but in Class 9 the pressure increased,” said Devika Shanbhag, 15, a student of Swami Vivekanand High School in Chembur. “Our teachers stressed on understanding and application. Our SSC science paper, for instance, was challenging. But that was nice, there should be some challenge.”
Not everyone, however, is finding it as easy to manage. In the past two years schools and teachers have been struggling to keep up with the changes. Hamstrung by the law into ensuring that students do not repeat a year, even as they ensure everyone learns whilst staying focused, some schools have guest lecturers coming in to help, others routinely conduct remedial classes.
Schools are finding they have to keep back more students in Class 9, with many who got that far simply getting through middle school but not necessarily paying attention. Attendance is also a problem and students don’t take anything seriously, schools complain.
“When you are building a building, the base has to be strong,” said Suresh Nair, principal, Vivek High School and Junior College, Goregaon. “But here you are adding new floors at the top suddenly. This is the first batch. We are very afraid about what will happen.”
In the lower classes, where the continuous comprehensive evaluation (CCE) pattern was introduced two years ago, parents are wringing their hands over what they see as lackadaisical children and disastrous consequences when it’s time for board exams.
“I can see the difference between my son and my daughter,” said Minal Wagal. Her older son is in Class 12, and her daughter, in Class 6, is experiencing the changes. “Earlier, students used to be on track, now they’re not up to the mark.”