As on 17th July, India has joined the league of the United States and Brazil with a million cases of coronavirus. India continues with its befuddling strategy of easing restrictions, as cases rise. On the education front, online education continues further deepening the inequalities and ensuring that children who do sit in front of screens end up with zombie education.
The exams strategy of HRD Ministry is the most confounding of all. CBSE cancelled the remaining papers of Std. 12th and declared the final results. The State Boards promoted the students across the board for all the pending exams. The college students expected a similar action for their final exams. Out of nowhere, UGC concluded that exams are a must, come what may.
The archaic universities are in a bind, not knowing what to do. The opposition-ruled States are salivating at a prospect of another showdown with the Central Government. The UGC academicians have announced their verdict and went back to their hibernation. The students and parents are at their wit’s end with no sight of an acceptable solution to all.
Beyond exams, as we know them
The students and their supporters are saying no to exams. The UGC and their supporters (!) are saying that no life is possible without exams. In the battle-lines drawn, nobody is raising a basic question – Why exams? Can’t there be an alternative to the 3-hour rote fest?
Indian education is notorious for the single-minded focus on rote learning that can be adjudged only by writing exams for 3 hours. Innumerable measures have been taken to reform Indian education. The syllabus, the teaching methodology etc. keep undergoing periodical changes. The educationists keep tinkering with all the inputs to the students. However, when it comes to assessing the output, there has been no alternative to the 3-hour manual scribbling contest. As a result, all the ills of Indian education keep perpetuating and mounting further.
The students are told to think out of the box, re-imagine, re-invent and all such theory. However, when it is about coming up with an option to the 3-hour rut, the entire establishment is found wanting. Leave aside coming up with an option, we are made to believe that there is no option at all.
Not just the academicians and the administrators, even the students and the parents cannot think beyond the conventional 3-hour exams. Why does a discourse on exams need to be a dichotomy?
In regular times, nobody would be willing to discuss discarding the fossilized notion of exams that we have. If even during this unprecedented times, we cannot let go off our perception that there is no alternative to the normal exams; what a new normal are we talking about?
Exams with the aid of technology
We love to say that technology has pervaded all spheres of life. If that is the case, why cannot we alter our outlook to the 3-hour rote fest? Surely, technology can and will give us several options for assessing a student. However, we seem to lack the will and the application to explore the new normal.
When a mobile phone has become a virtual identity of a person, why cannot the same technology be harnessed? On one hand, we talk about Artificial Intelligence, Software As A Solution, Big Data etc, and then be medieval about our approach to 3-hour custom as an only tool for student assessment.
End-to-end encrypted files, digitally secured documents, audio files, multiple questionnaires etc can be handy tools for evaluation. Even a basic feature phone can serve the purpose of answering multiple-choice questions. All these and more is possible if the administrators and the educationists from a by-gone era wake up to the changed reality.
CBSE reduces 30% syllabus
To ensure that their beloved exams can be conducted next year, CBSE mandarins have reduced the syllabus for 9th to 12th standard by 30%. A basic query: Why does a student study? To give exams or to gain knowledge? HRD Ministry has made it’s choice crystal clear. It does not matter that students skip 30% of the portion, for what is important is that they give exams for the remaining 70%.
If the coronavirus cases keep rising, will CBSE further reduce the syllabus? With their convoluted logic, they should. This might lead to a farcical situation that the students might end up studying only 50% of the syllabus or even less. All these because CBSE cannot look beyond the 3-hour ritual.
The New Beginning
Indian education needed a wake-up call from its slumber, coronavirus has just provided that.
It is up to the Government, the education institutions, the parents and the students to come up with an alternative to exams and make a new beginning to learning.
If there has been ever an opportunity to rethink and reinvent the Indian Education, the objectives, the principles, the way it is imparted, the way it is assessed – it is this. The exams have to be the first brick to be taken down from the antiquated structure of Indian Education.
PS: If COVID refuses to leave by end-September, what shall UGC do? UGC will again kick the students down the road and they can forget their careers, future and life altogether. All because in this country nobody can think beyond exams. BTW, why exams for only final year students?