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BTW: This protest by Chandigarh students over Class-12 score sucks

The students had got less than perfect marks in English, and they said it’s not their fault but of the evaluation. So, they held a protest at the CBSE office.

columns Updated: Jun 03, 2018 00:32 IST
Aarish Chhabra
Aarish Chhabra
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Class 10 results,Class 12 results,CBSE results
This protest was vulgar at one level, and ironic at another. No, I am not blaming the students, though some sentences in the subsequent paragraphs may appear that way. (Getty Images/iStock)

Protest is the hallmark of democracy. I’m sure you’ve heard this boring but important sentence. It’s the kind of thing we, the people of India, love to peddle as divine wisdom when it should be plain common sense.

But not all protests are noble. Some can reveal more about the protesters and the System than about the facile issue being raised. One such protest was held by some students of a Chandigarh school after the results of CBSE Class 12. This school is known for being an assembly-line producer of toppers. This time, it did not get the ranks it wanted.

The protest was specific in its subject. The students had got less than perfect marks in English. Yes, the language that lends them privilege had not been kind to them. And they said it’s not their fault but of the manner of evaluation. Some kids fell short of the perfect 100 by as many as 10 marks! Can you believe that? Believe it.

And know this: This protest was vulgar at one level, and ironic at another. No, I am not blaming the students as such, though some sentences in the subsequent paragraphs may appear that way. I am actually glad that they held a protest, an act that’s considered bad in a regime helmed by The Man Who Has a Degree (But Won’t Show It), the eminent writer of that seminal book ‘Exam Warriors’.

The irony is that these students, privileged to go to a proper school, are programmed to seek perfection to such a degree that their priorities reek of selfishness. They’ve been turned into insecure citizens by the System that wants them to only think about themselves. Such is their myopia that, driven in cars by their parents and in essence by the System, they go kilometers away to the CBSE office to hold a dharna.

If the protest were to be taken on face value, I too could come up with my version, in hindsight. I would’ve loved to ignite a stir against our English teacher Mrs Malhotra, who told us not to care about marks but about honesty of expression. She was an oddity, a romantic among the regimented. That was then.

Now, not scoring the perfect hundred is seen as worthy of a protest. Could such students think of protesting against schools that cheat students from economically weaker sections out of a chance to study at all? Who’s the poorer for it? Do these students know what they lose out on by not getting to share a desk with, say, the son of a tea-seller?

“As the rat race manufactures inflated marks, more and more children would begin to define themselves as having failed,” wrote sociologist Avijit Pathak in The Wire, “With this redefinition of failure, children and youngsters would acquire ‘stigmatised’ identities and lose their self-worth.”

That’s a critique of the exam system at large. Indeed, this protest was by Class-12 students; but it’s a reminder of the brutality of the system we have reintroduced for Class 10, too, after nearly a decade. The no-fail policy up to Class 8 failed, which led to the comeback of mandatory board exams in place of a well-meaning process of gradual and pressure-free growth. It was never implemented the way it should have been. Key elements of social reform remained missing. For instance, the whole system revolved around teachers ensuring and assessing a student’s progress at a compassionate pace, but they still hardly get (or have) the time and motivation to focus on their core job.

Anyhow, I’ll now return to the specific subject of this article — a ridiculous hope for a perfect score in a language. Some even get it.

Grammar can perhaps be perfect; but how can articulation, which is the heart of the language and literature, ever be perfect? Sciences look for the definite, thus they fetch perfect scores within the contours of prescribed syllabus. The beauty of language, however, is in how you constantly struggle to make it your wand of magic when the magic is in the struggle.

What’s the solution then? Real, positive change often comes slow, and is marked by reversals on the way. The toughest question is: How can we expect children, or even parents, to focus on long-term change when their immediate material success can be jeopardised by one mark? I don’t know. Maybe you, the students, teachers, parents, could start with a small protest about something that concerns not just you. Can compassion be made compulsory in all classes?

Email writer at aarish.chhabra@htlive.com | Twitter: @aarishc

First Published: Jun 03, 2018 00:26 IST