Uncle Kapil’s gifts
Young students all across the country have warmly welcomed the revolutionary education reforms being ushered in by Union Education Minister Kapil Sibal. “Under the old repressive system, I was forced to demean myself by studying in order to pass those brutal exams instituted by a tyrannical and uncaring state. Thanks to Uncle Kapil, they can no longer fail us till class 8,” said young Bittu, who boasted that he had failed twice in class 6 and once in class 7. He added that he was now going to play video games throughout the year.
Others have hailed the inclusion of activities such as sports and dramatics in the new continuous evaluation process. “I used to get low marks earlier because I talked a lot in class and couldn’t add,” said Guddi from class 6. “But now, if I get 9 marks for my social talking skills and 2 in maths, that gives me a total of six,” she added. A small boy said he was good at marbles and hoped they would give him marks for it. Young Bunty said he was deeply disturbed at the thought of competing against his friends and this had prevented him from reading and writing in the past. “Under the new systematix, however, I hope I will get marks for emotionational skills,” he said happily. When asked whether he meant ‘system’ and ‘emotional’ he replied in the affirmative.
Psychologists say that parents too may feel relieved as the pressure on their children ebbs and there are fewer suicides related to poor performance in exams. But others are not so sure, pointing out that there may well be a spate of suicides as children start failing en masse in class 9. Bunty pooh-poohs these fears. “These are frivovolical objectatives raised by jealous grown-ups who couldn’t whoop it up in school,” he said, agreeing that he really meant ‘frivolous objections’.
“Look at some of the sad and repressed people produced by the old school system,” said a psychiatrist. As an example, he pointed to Manmohan Singh. “Oh I know he’s a great economist and all that, but if he had been evaluated under the comprehensive evaluation scheme and been relieved of the pressure of exams, we would today not only have an economist-prime minister but perhaps an economist-cum-dancing prime minister who could also play the banjo at G20 meetings,” he said.
Nevertheless, there has been a vociferous demand to extend the policy banning failures to all classes. “Everybody knows we teenagers have complex emotional issues,” said a student who wanted to scrap the class 12 board exams. Undergraduates say that university examinations have become outdated. “If everyone can pass our driving tests,” said an undergraduate studying logic, “everyone should pass other tests too.” Research students say they feel suicidal quite often. Sources say the government realises the need for a level-playing field and is mulling a scheme that automatically presents a PhD to every baby as soon as it is born. “That way,” said a bureaucrat triumphantly, “we completely eliminate exam-related suicides.”
The problem, though, is that while student suicides may be a thing of the past, the new continuous evaluation system could lead to a suicide epidemic among schoolteachers. Government sources dismiss that view, pointing out that many teachers are anyway going to die of starvation, given the pittance they get. “As a counter-move, we in the education department will also threaten suicide if the changes don’t go through,” said a staunch reformist.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal