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Annual frenzy for marks needs re-examination

While the frenzy for marks and percentages has spawned thousands of coaching classes and private tutors, whether this helps develop real intelligence and the wherewithal in students to take on the challenges of the world is open to question

mumbai Updated: Jun 01, 2018 00:28 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,ayaz memon,examination
Given that our education is driven by rote learning and tricks to solve problems rather than comprehending the subject in its true sense, the failure is of the system rather than students.(HT FILE)

It’s the time of the year when school finishing results are declared, followed by admissions to college. There is nervous excitement in students and parents all around about how things will work out for them, which kind of grips me too these days.

I read every bit that comes my way with great attention, fretting, agonising and rejoicing, depending on the story. The fate of students – whether they’ve done well or badly – keeps me on tenterhooks, as if I was one of them.

Exams and admissions recur annually, and are part of the staple of newspapers everywhere. In my stints heading newsrooms, I found this period of the year particularly exhilarating because, apart from all else, it would involve everybody – staff, readers, advertisers, owners et al. Some decades ago, when there was no Internet or mobile telephone, newspaper offices would be the first to get results. The newsroom would soon be humming with activity, telephones would ring ceaselessly, and often there would be a queue of anxious students/parents waiting to know their fate.

After a while, of course, there is a repetitiveness of stories around exams and admissions that can make the exercise routine and ordinary if the newsroom becomes casual. This poses a serious challenge for editors and journalists. While names change, the subject matter remains pretty much the same every year. The missive to reporters in newsrooms is usually clear-cut: after getting the news – good or bad – find and profile the high performers, then follow up with human-interest stories. Like those who’ve succeeded facing severe challenges – physical, health or economic status. Children from underprivileged backgrounds doing well has always a good story for its pathos, girls doing better than boys gives a sense of buoyancy to the idea of gender parity, which is otherwise absent in everyday life, etc.

Given the intense competition between newspapers, what this entails is getting the most pertinent stories first, with as many layers and dimensions as possible, ensure that these are well crafted/edited for displaying on the pages.

After my tenure in newsrooms ended, I thought I had gotten over the anticipation that this time of the year would bring. But I’ve discovered in the past few years that this has been revived, albeit for a different reason.

Increasingly I find the exams and marks, passing and failing syndrome detrimental to the true purpose of education. Marks are not necessarily an index to intelligence, and on the contrary can end up creating problems of self-worth in students. The fact of being ‘failed’ is a body blow to self-esteem. Given that our education is driven by rote learning and tricks to solve problems rather than comprehending the subject in its true sense, the failure is of the system rather than students. This stigmatisation of students who don’t get the requisite marks to pass exams bothers me increasingly. This is based on a linear, rather than a causal measure, and tries to assess different personalities on the same parameters. Ironically, the problem does not spare top-notchers either. Imagine students unable to get into a stream of their choice because they’ve got 92.6 per cent instead of 96.5! How demoralising is that for a student who may have put in months of effort? Thursday’s edition of this newspaper front-paged the story that more HSC students from Mumbai have entered the 90% club. In a sense, this suggests a rise in standards, but considering college admission work, I fear that there will be far more stories of despair too.

While the frenzy for marks and percentages has spawned thousands of coaching classes and private tutors – in a classic demand and supply situation – whether this actually helps develop real intelligence and the wherewithal in students to take on the challenges of the world is open to question. I am not an educationist, but I am not sure this unholy race for marks and percentages is actually helping develop intelligence in students or shaping their personalities to take on the challenges of the world later in good psychological health.

It does introduce the concept of competitiveness, which is vital to the human race. But unless this is tempered with the learning that superior marks is not superiority of individual, and failure in an exam is not a failure in life or its purpose, it may end up triggering undesirable complexes and conflicts.

First Published: Jun 01, 2018 00:28 IST