Monday, 16 May, 2022
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The CBSE paper leaks should force us to reform our outdated learning systems

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Board examinations never were moments of celebration. They are dumb dreadful standardised tests that have no place in the 21st century

The most outrageous reaction at the announcement of the CBSE retest for Class X Mathematics and Class XII Economics naturally came from students who claimed they had written a ‘100 out of 100 mark paper’. They claimed that the question paper after this leak fiasco will be relatively more brutal, and that they are being punished for no fault of theirs.

Putting up a brave face at the press conference, HRD minister Prakash Javadekar did empathetically acknowledge some of these ‘hardships’ of students. He promised that security measures will be more stringent than ever and the government will deploy ‘new technology’ to make sure that it would not happen again.

Very well, indeed. Students, large heartedly, we have to give Prakash Javadekar another chance.

But we will be fooling ourselves if we didn’t take two minutes to laugh at how this leak has absolutely undressed the arrogant emperor of our schooling system. It is a savage reminder of the pathetically hollow and retrograde assessment system that continues to haunt millions of children in the country. To demand fairness from an essentially oppressive regime is only to validate it.

Logician Narendra Modi, in his Penguin published 200-page activity book, Exam Warriors, tells children that examinations are like festivals (“because they are enjoyed by lakhs of people together”) and should bring out the best in us. But look through the old rhetoric and ask yourselves why your children don’t wish to enjoy this festival one more time? Wasn’t it supposed to be fun? What went wrong?

Board examinations never were moments of celebration. They are dumb dreadful standardised tests that have no place in the 21st-century knowledge economy. The nightmare shouldn’t be that one paper was leaked, but that it affects so many lakhs of kids. It must make us question the logic of testing lakhs of diverse and dynamic kids by a regressive yardstick. Did we forget who brought back the Boards for Class X this year?

This is a sign of greater malady. When we should be democratising and decentralising learning and assessment systems, we are trying to make this authoritarian centralised exam machinery more ‘secure and efficient’.

We should have been exploring alternatives to Board examinations where our learning performance is not subject to how lucky we get on a three-hour paper one day.

Imagine how insecure and afraid our children have grown that they fear not being able to manage a repeat of their performance if asked to reappear on the test. Pronouncements about learning cannot be hostage to contingencies and accidents of luck— not at least when you boast about fairness.

Yes, I am suggesting that students shouldn’t feel an inch of injustice for this leak. Or better, as Egyptian anchor, Amr Adeeb, once famously muttered about the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni, “We are in deep shit.”

An authentic assessment is not a nightmare. It shouldn’t be about Narendra Modi’s street-tricks of recalling better (“Recall how you remembered the colours of the rainbow with the word VIBGYOR?”) and impressing your examiner (“proper space management, well-organised content and neat handwriting”).

You need patrolling squads and CCTV surveillance only when your education system robs children of their chance to make mistakes. By making so much of what happens to their lives depend on five days of board examinations, we have hugely incentivised cheating and treachery.

We have to listen to radical voices like those of Manish Jain, the founder of Swaraj University, that the Indian examination system may be a gross violation of our children’s human rights, and introspect how fair we are being to students with or without a leak.

We promised better, didn’t we?

Akshat Tyagi is the author of ‘Naked Emperor of Education’, and a critique of India’s schooling model. He writes for several publications in digital media space on learning, society and culture.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. For each subject, a question bank consisting of about 6000 questions be prepared and uploaded in NCERT or CBSE website and board examination question papers may be set only from this question bank. Let the students be prepared for the entire question bank. Let there be transparency in the examination system.

  2. I think the internet, especially Google search, has stood conventional education on its head. What is the relevance / utility / propriety of asking children to memorise so much material that is instantly accessible on their smart phones ? It is a challenge in fact for educators to recast the entire pedagogy of education, equip the young with not just knowledge but critical faculties of thought and analysis that will prepare them for the job requirements of the future.

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