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A race to the bottom

A race to the bottom

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

Recently the results for Class X and XII were declared and the students have scored as high as a 100%.

Some have all scored a 100% in humanities subjects. The newsworthiness of the declaration of the CBSE result competes with events as the monsoon, the budget and a stock market collapse.

While the inflated marks in the exams makes everyone happy, the editorial suggests that this evaluation strategy will have long-term repercussions.

2. CLASS X AND XII EXAMS

2.1 Importance of the exams

  • This time of the year is nerve wrenching for the lakhs of students who have already appeared in their Class X and Cass XII, and their families since during this time of the year, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) declares the results for these classes.
  • Over the years, a student's performance in Class X and XII examinations has become a benchmark for their academic competence.
  • More than that, success or failure in these exams is the key determinant of the self-worth for lakhs of students.

2.2 How big are these exams?

  • The number of students from across the country appearing for these examinations are to the tune of above 30 lakhs.
  • Not only that, even in terms of the range of subjects, these exams are mindboggling. In 2018 the CBSE offered around 800 subjects ranging from the mundane physics, maths, biology, economics to esoteric disciplines like olericulture and confectionery.
  • To reduce the risk of paper leakage, CBSE sends many sets of encrypted question papers to the examination centres some of which are located in extremely remote areas.
  • Therefore, these exams conducted by the CBSE across the nation are a humongous task in planning and logistics.
  • Furthermore, the successful completion of the entire process year after year without any major glitches is a testament to the organisational abilities of the CBSE.

3. EVALUATING THE CBSE

3.1 Lack of competency in evaluation process

  • However, unfortunately the same level of logistical and organisational competency of the CBSE is not visible in arguably the most important aspect of the whole exercise viz. academic soundness of the learning and evaluation processes.
  • The most important reason for the existence of the CBSE is ensuring relevant syllabi, high academic standards in teaching the students and the evaluation of students and the boards does not seem to be delivering here.

3.2 Syllabus

  • The syllabus is an essential part of the whole learning process in any subject.
  • It largely defines the boundaries of what is to be taught and up to what degree of detail.
  • The syllabus is usually set by the SME (subject matter experts) which includes teachers and researchers.
  • The experts decide the inclusion or exclusion of topics, their sequencing and their relative importance.
  • After the syllabus is decided, it is translated into textbooks, which are written by another set of experts commissioned by NCERT.
  • The NCERT textbooks are comprehensive and maintains high academic standards.

3.3 The evaluation process

  • The CBSE has done a laudable job in setting the syllabi, commissioning the textbooks and conducting the exams.
  • Therefore, the core issue is that of the evaluation process and its feedback effects on the learning process.
  • If the students and teachers, the two most important actors in the evaluation process know that evaluation demands a certain kind of pedagogy and methodology, then there is enough incentive for them to adopt the same and this feedback works in many ways.

3.4 Maximum good to the maximum number

  • A case in point for the effect of feedback on evaluation demands is the portion of the syllabus that is being tested in the exam.
  • The Class XII board exam covers the syllabus taught only in Class XII instead of the combined syllabus of Class XI and XII.
  • Because the evaluation of the Class XII board exam is only on the basis of the syllabus of Class XI, the syllabus to be covered in Class XI received only little attention by both students and teachers.
  • Far worse is the fact that in order to do “maximum good to the maximum number,” the CBSE, in some subjects like Physics has included relatively easier topics in the Class XII syllabus while the more challenging concepts are left for Class XI.
  • This can have dire consequences on the assimilation and understanding of the subject.

4. THE HIGH EVALUATION SCORES

4.1 Moderation

  • As seen above, the evaluation process is determining the learning outcomes.
  • However, the experts point out that the evaluation process appears to have only one overarching goal that is to ensure that maximum number of students pass the exam and a large number of them score very high marks. 
  • This goal is ensured by the innocuously named system called “moderation”.
  • The question papers undergo moderation to ensure that they are not too challenging and if by any chance, a reasonable question paper, which really tests the conceptual understanding of the student gets through this rigorous exercise, there is a great hue and cry about it.

4.2 Generosity in giving marks

  • The results of the CBSE Class X and XII exams show the generosity of CBSE in giving the marks.
  • The following metrics are steading increasing with every passing academic calendar:
    • the pass percentage
    • the number of students getting above95%
    • the number of students getting 100%

4.3 Intended goal of evaluation

  • Such numbers looks very impressive on paper but in reality reduce the whole evaluation process to a farce.
  • The evaluation of a student intends to test the following:
    • understanding and conceptual clarity of the subject
    • the power of critical thinking acquired by the student
    • the student's ability to assimilate the concepts of a subject
  • Therefore, the marks after evaluation are meant to provide a true measure of the student's appropriateness for further academic work or a job.

4.4 Effect of high marks

  • The marks scored by the student is meant to provide an honest benchmark of the student's capabilities but this exercise is rendered futile if it becomes obvious to outsiders, either by themselves or in a comparative sense, that the marks scored are not a true reflection of the student’s abilities.
  • The lack of trust in the evaluation system of the CBSE is evident from the following:
    • The most premier and self-respecting institutions of higher learning in the country do not trust these marks and therefore have their own entrance tests.
    • Academics in the country are frequently seen lamenting the weak foundations of students’ learning.
    • The industrial sector is also often seen complaining about the lack of analytical skills in the same students after their college degrees.

5. CONCLUSION

Even the dictators in many countries known to rig the elections do not make it to a 100% in their favour so that the elections appear 'free and fair'.

Inflating the marks keeps the trio of parents, students and politicians happy but this race to the “top” in reality is a race to the bottom and will have long-term consequences.

This populist approach to evaluation by the CBSE needs a revisit. CBSE needs to reorient its evaluation system in such a manner that it encourages actual learning.

India cannot be a major player in the knowledge economy of the future if our evaluation system does not encourage actual learning.