Why we must look beyond the CBSE paper leak
In the last couple of weeks, the Central Board of Secondary Examination (CBSE)’s paper leak has been one of the biggest media stories. But what was lost in the din were the abysmal results of the National Achievement Survey (NAS), which is conducted by National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) for classes 3, 5, 8 and 10. The Survey showed once again that there is a serious crisis of learning in India and it affects millions of children, wasting the most productive years of their childhood because teaching and learning are below par in our State-run schools.
Unlike in the CBSE case, however, there were no protests about the NAS results, the media did not reach out to parents and children who attend government schools and the HRD secretary did not hold a press meet on the report. But these children, who study in State-run schools, like those who go to CBSE schools, also have aspirations. They have been badly let down by everyone.
It’s high time that we ask ourselves why we have become so obsessed with this performance-driven culture in education, which is giving rise to so much anxiety. The reason: the education system is designed to exclude as many as possible, leading to desperation, especially during exams. From preschool to the university, the system is designed like a pyramid. As one climbs the education ladder, the number of seats available decreases. This basic structural feature, among others, ensures that everyone does not complete even the basic stages of education.
But exams hardly measure important human qualities needed in this increasingly complex world: persistence, curiosity, courage, leadership, creativity, compassion, empathy, sense of beauty and humour, among others.
The Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system was introduced as part of the Right to Education Act (RTE) to make assessment more rounded, going beyond the mind-numbing exams and recognising the multiple abilities of every child. The system was to replace the practice of detention based on year-end exams. But the idea degenerated into more and more tests based on the CBSE’s approach to CCE. The board does not have any mandate to determine practices in government schools, but state after state adopted this, overlooking what the academic authority for RTE, the NCERT, had to say about CCE. Now there is a chorus to detain children based on the specious argument that learning outcomes have dipped because of CCE. So we are back to where we started, unsuccessful in our attempts to make the educational process more enabling and meaningful for children.
The point really is not about fixing the leaks. It is about looking beyond and developing the conviction that this inequitable and lopsided system of education has to change.
Sheshagiri KM is an education specialist, Unicef, Chhattisgarh
The views expressed are personal