Is it 499/500 or nothing at all? Time to Take it Easy on the Kids

by June 2, 2018 0 comments

Time to Take it Easy on the KidsThe Board results for Class X/XII have turned out good this year. The average marks are high, but that doesn’t mean every kid is a future doctor or engineer! Are you asking your kid what they want to do? Are we offering multiple career choices to them to pursue? The age old question remains – are the kids happy with how things will go down the line?

Much as we hate clichés, truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Heard at an upmarket restaurant, a one-time IITian, now frustrated executive at a global major, lecturing his maybe eight-year-old son over Sunday brunch: “Hold the chopsticks like the Chinese do, easy, not tensing your fingers. You will have to be IITian like papa, be better than papa, travel the world more than papa, study harder than papa…” and more such preach speech. God knows what the child with thick-rimmed spectacles swallowed with his favourite dumplings but he definitely ingested his father’s angst and burden of expectation even on a grace day. Monday onwards he would be another rat in the race. It is 499/500 or nothing at all.

Closer home, a neighbour’s son was grappling with depression despite making a respectable 86 per cent in his Class XII Boards. But it was nowhere near 499/500 and that meant he could not get into DU and would have to look for other options out of Delhi, in an alien hinterland he had not grown up in, supplanted overnight from his known contexts, social, familial and cultural. A private specialist university would mean Rs 23 lakh for three years and his family could spare only Rs 7 lakh. News headlines told us that within 24 hours of the declaration of CBSE results of Class XII, three students had committed suicide because they had not crested expectations, not because they failed.

With the CBSE results of both Class X and Class XII hitting hyperbolic highs of excellence, with almost a 100 per cent strike rate, what seems to have fallen by the wayside of discussion boards is the drop in overall pass percentage and the sense of gloom and doom of the nation’s could-have-beens and also-rans. In one swoop they were told that they were not good enough, too bad. With universities forced to declare high cutoffs, even those with 90 per cent have little chance of making it to known institutions. Considering that there has been no commensurate increase in the list of centres of excellence over the last 30 years, there is a chronic demand-supply gap that’s decimating the student’s potential even further. Stories of worldwide billionaires making it big despite their shabby academic records fail to inspire an aspirant standing in queue for revised cutoff lists and a regulated education system that likes buttonholing a conformist than a maverick. And if such illogical and unreasonable marking systems continue to prevail, then we will only be chasing our future further away rather than nurturing them. Even assuming that an objective type module of testing and assessment was devised, how could one assume humanities to be of scientific certitude with no room for subjective analysis, manner of language or presentation? Even post 70s, there was a more realistic system of evaluation with the topper scoring a reasonable 80 per cent. But a flurry of 90 plus performances happened in subsequent years with a more determined policy push to appear competitive and be at par with international scoring patterns. Senior educationists argue that the highest marks were not indicative of language and articulation skills or reasoned, cognitive processes. In fact, many toppers had been found to flounder on application-based tests and written skills. Why then should a statistical stratosphere be a matter of much rejoicing, considering only 3,000 odd might just make their way to the elite club? How then can we keep the rest invested in the belief that they can make it? Many experts have called for a review of prevalent marking norms and some like NIOS’ CB Sharma have even advocated a grading system whereby students can be classified into slabs of top five per cent of A+, then ten per cent of B+, B- and so on in descending order. That way there is a greater chance of participation by students who may have not delivered their best on a particular exam day but are capable enough to have a right to a higher institution that they deserve.

There is much debate on the CBSE moderation policy too, which allows space for incremental marking. Going by CBSE class X and XII results, most of the high-ranking scorers have been around Delhi/NCR, who are more likely to get placed in top universities. The CBSE marking system is at great variance with state boards, whose students feel disempowered by the lower and differential scoring mechanism. As more and more aspirational schools in states switch over to the Central system, there is a greater pool of students who are vying for the same number of colleges but have to choose state-level colleges and institutions, some of whom continue to penalise entrants by subtracting CBSE percentages according to slabs and keeping them at par with state boards. The state boards cannot be ignored too as they are the reason for last mile connectivity for students in outlying areas. This mismatch needs to be addressed at the earliest, where the Central and state boards should not be seen as being at war with each other but oriented towards a more national vision of harnessing a talent pool in the right direction. Simultaneously, state universities need to be restored to their former glories as well and teaching standards made competitive and equitable enough to draw students and give them more births than have them flock to only Central universities.  

Trouble is we never seem to think of evolving a healthy public education infrastructure that has a parity of course curriculum, teachers’ training and codified standards. This is one of the reasons why the public education system in Singapore has become a success and is cited as a template that can be adapted. In one blow, this eliminates the prospect of political point-scoring over syllabus, assessment and prioritises the student. The greatest example of lopsided planning are the 15 Central Universities which were set up with healthy government funding but located to suit political pledges in remote places like Motihari in Bihar and most backward areas of Odisha, which did not have good schools in the first place. Attracting quality teachers and students to an institution without an existent basic education system badly misfired. We need to reorient our vision to first building a standardised school system in our hinterland. The Navodaya school results have shown us year after year, as also this year, how planned outreach has helped nurture talent from unexpected places. The comprehensive assessment system, which under the Right to Education, guaranteed that a teacher would monitor and assess the preparedness of each student in a class of 30 students at the most, is not implementable simply because there aren’t enough trained teachers in the first place.

Simultaneously, there needs to be more discipline-oriented institutions so that a student has a wider choice to pursue higher studies in his chosen area of interest, coupled with entry tests for specific subjects without wholly referencing the board results.

Of course, there’s the larger issue of budgetary allocation for education, which still continues to be single digit. Unlike the West, which runs a school system largely on public revenues, Indian parents spend on the six per cent allocated in the budget plus additional money to groom their young at private institutions. In fact, they end up spending more than their Western counterparts. Why has the private school institution been allowed to flourish uninhibitedly without strengthening our public educational institutions? Let us not forget that some of our political class are heavily invested in some of these elite private institutions. Till we prioritise a robust school system that’s oriented towards an application-based rather than a formulaic approach, and one that believes in fostering capable young people across India, the larger purpose of education in building a human resource base will be unmet.

(The writer is Associate Editor, The Pioneer)

Writer: Rinku Ghosh

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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