Edit & Opinion

Exams Under Examination: Pariksha Pe Charcha

Prime  Minister Narendra Modi urged students to look upon exams as an opportunity and not as an end of life’s dreams. He was conducting the fourth annual interaction session with students –  “Pariksha   pe  Charcha” (debate on exams) in a new virtual format to avoid physical presence in view of the pandemic. The Prime Minister connected directly with students, teachers, and parents to get their views on the current examination system and associated matters.

This is part of a movement to create a “stress-free atmosphere” for the young called the “Exam Warrior”. The objective is extremely relevant in the context of growing exam-related problems  and the tension that has gripped children, youth, and parents as the consumers and teachers and managers as service providers. Modi has also outlined a new approach to education, knowledge, and holistic development of students in the publication “Exam Warrior”. He has tried to put   exams, a ritual-like educational activity thoroughly upset under the pandemic, in proper  perspective.

This movement driven by the Prime Minister has the aim of promoting an environment “where the unique individuality of each child is celebrated, encouraged, and allowed to express itself fully”.

Exams, in the course of evolution of the education system, have become the starting point of education and also the goal post of education. Even pre-KG kid seeking admission has to appear for an interview along with his/her parents before teachers and school authorities. School and college life is a series of exams of different levels of importance. Entry to various courses and exit from them after completion of the course are possible only through the gate called exams.   And so when COVID-19  has intruded into school life, universal worry is not so much about the  interruption caused to learning and acquisition of knowledge as about the interruption to various  examination schedules and subsequent entry into and completion of various courses, and likely wastage of months and even years.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has cancelled Board examinations for Class  X and postponed Class XII examinations in view of the pandemic situation getting worse day by day. It set the precedent to be followed by State Boards sooner or later.

States were at different stages of preparation for conducting Board exams at that time.  Preparation has two sides physical preparation of making arrangements for observing COVID protocol strictly and for taking immediate action if any emergency were to arise, and mental  preparation of students to write the exams amidst uncertainty. In normal years, students are provided many revision sessions, given assignments and tests so that they get ready to face the final. All these have fallen flat with only uncertainty before them as the reality. Exam stress   multiplied enormously affecting large sections of the population besides students.

In  the  month preceding cancellation/postponement of CBSE exams, State governments have taken varied steps with regard to State board exams which add to  confusion.

“All pass  order” already issued by the Government of Tamil Nadu cancelling all arrear examinations has been declared an “uninformed political decision” by the Madras High Court directing the State to conduct online examinations to those who have arrears to clear. The Government has to abide by the verdict and has informed the court that “no student would be declared passed without writing an online exam”.

However, practical exams for Class XII students have been commenced in many States with  special safety precautions. Laboratory readiness to prevent virus entry is more important than student preparation.  CBSE also restored the full syllabus which was curtailed for 2021 for  Classes IX to XII. Score improvement examinations,  which have the effect of lessening exam-related tension, are planned to be conducted in 2021.

Modi’s Charcha has opened the door for examination reforms. The vision of making exams less  stressful is sought to be realised by new measures designed to transform assessments and focus on students achieving success through learning outcomes rather than rote memorisation. It is termed competency-based assessment and  will be gradually introduced.

In 2020, board exams included competency-based questions. Their proportion will be increased year after year so as to get a weightage of 50 to 60% by 2025. It is intended to equip students  with employability skills.

The on-going CBSE plan for making exams less stressful includes introduction of Holistic Progress Cards (HPC) to provide students with information on their strengths, areas of interest,  and areas of focus to help them make optimal career choices. The object is remove the notion of     exam as an end in itself and make it a means for improving life beyond it.

Holistic Education started as a movement in education by the  pioneering efforts of  the South African military leader, General Smutts (1870-1950) who was responsible for the creation of the  Union of South Africa. Holistic education was mostly used to refer to the more democratic and humanistic types of alternative education. It seeks to engage the learner totally with mind, body, and spirit. It  is based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to their local community, to the natural world, and to the humanitarian values such as compassion and peace. Thus, education may become a felt experience useful   throughout one’s life.

National Education Policy in India (2020) discards traditional modes of evaluation of students   and opens a more comprehensive and multi-dimensional approach to student assessments. It states that a national assessment body — the Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of  Knowledge for Holistic Development — (PARAKH) will be established. This body will be responsible for setting standards, norms and guidelines for evaluation of students for all recognised school boards. NEP requires that teachers have to be prepared for the transformation in the Assessment  System to be commenced by 2022-23 academic session.

In the new system, students will be graded on self-awareness, inter-personal relationships, problem-solving, and dealing with stress and creative skills. Multiple sources will be used to continually gather information on a student’s development to provide feedback to support and guide learning.  Students will clarify learning intentions, assess themselves and one another, set goals for improvement, and track and communicate their progress.

Redesigned Report Cards will reflect in detail the progress and individuality of each learner in the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor  domains. The Report will record assessment by self,   peer, and teacher. It sounds fantastic, but much depends on keenness and commitment of the three assessors  to produce expected results.

The change of the Examination system is described as change from “formative assessment” at the end of a course to “summative assessment” which involves continuous assessment. School leaving examinations have already been cancelled, postponed or modified across Europe. But, nowhere is it seen as an opportunity to overhaul the education system.

 

Under Covid compulsion, education is getting linked with technological development long after media, telecommunication, and financial services. But, if online exam were to  continue testing  students’ retention ability like the old system, the change would make no difference to education system. We want a  total transformation of  education. –INFA

 

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About the author

By Dr S Saraswathi | INFA

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