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CBSE retests: Our evaluation system has failed India’s exam warriors

Beyond blaming the board, should we be examining whether the evaluation system is overburdened? Are smarter and more effective ways of assessment such as the proposed National Testing Agency the way forward?

analysis Updated: Mar 29, 2018 17:58 IST
Paper leak,CBSE,Central Board of Secondary examination
Members of the All India Students Federation at a demonstration in protest against the leaked question papers of the Bihar staff selection commission exam. (Sonu Kishan)

More than 16 lakh students wrote the matriculate exam this month. Spread over four weeks, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) had made the class 10 examinations mandatory after a gap of eight years. In 2009, arguing that the stress of a public examination was too much to handle for class 10 students, the CBSE had declared it optional. On March 28 this year, candidates, teachers and parents were looking forward to the culmination of the nerve-racking exam process. But within an hour of taking the maths exam, even as students were breathing a collective sigh of relief, came the news that the board had ordered a retest. The reason, according to a statement issued by the CBSE, was to “uphold the sanctity of the Board examinations and in the interest of fairness to the students”. The trigger was the alleged leak of the question paper on social media.

Try explaining this to a 15-year-old who has overcome her fear of numbers, theorems, formulas and trigonometry with great difficulty. How can the paper be leaked?” asked my daughter. Will the Board ensure that those who attempted it fair and square are not penalised the next time?” Looking at her face which was a mix of injury and incredulity, I realised it wasn’t the best time to play the CBSE’s advocate.

At the dinner table on Tuesday, when she had stolen a few minutes away from solving a sample paper, her parents had promised her a short break in the hills after the exams. Her grandmother had handed her a handwritten good-luck note and assured her that the reward of all the hard work she had done will be her being able to select the stream of her choice in class 11. Today, the family is thinking of ways not to upset her fragile state of mind and urging her to hang in there in exam mode for a few more days.

The order for the retests came on the back of a CBI probe ordered by the government on March 5 into the alleged leak of a question paper of the Combined Graduate Level examination conducted by the Staff Selection Commission. Why is it so difficult for the CBSE, the country’s premier national school board, to conduct free and fair exams? State boards with fewer resources are fighting exam malpractices in their own ways. The West Bengal exam board put microchips in question paper packets. When Uttar Pradesh cracked down on cheating this year, using a mix of CCTVs, video recordings and an elaborate frisking exercise in which many girls were asked to remove their hairpins and boys mandated to wear short-sleeve shirts so they couldn’t carry in chits, more than 10 lakh candidates dropped out of 2018’s state board exams. In March 2016, exam papers for the chemistry pre-university course in Karnataka were leaked twice within 10 days. Several thousand students had to take the exam three times. How can we ensure it won’t happen at the national level again?

It is no secret that the subject of examinations is close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s heart. He has written a book about it and even gave tips to beat exam stress to school students in Delhi on February 16. HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar has promised that Monday onward, the exams will be made “foolproof” through use of technology. Did the CBSE have to wait for this disaster before it could think of this? Should the government hold the CBSE chairperson, who said she had received the leaked paper on the eve of the exam, accountable?

Beyond blaming the board, should we examine whether the evaluation system is overburdened? Are smarter ways of assessment such as the proposed National Testing Agency the way forward? Does former HRD minister Kapil Sibal’s 2009 decision to scrap the class 10 exams and adopt a grading system needs to be revived? The answers to these may help us stem the rot in the long run. For now, the anxiety among more than two million students about whether the next exam they take will again be leaked has to be allayed.


First Published: Mar 29, 2018 16:59 IST