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By Ashok Pandey
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced schoolchildren to stay at home for the second consecutive academic year. Worse, the new strain seems determined to affect school-going children. Amid growing anxiety, safety and health concerns, conducting board examinations involving 3.5 million students in CBSE schools became a national furore, inviting Prime Minister’s intervention.
Now that the examinations for class 10 stand cancelled and postponed for class 12, multiple realities are staring at students, parents, schools and policymakers. The recent decision exacerbates broader concerns for repurposing education and accelerating examination reform in the country.
The bold pronouncements in the NEP 2020 on holistic assessment—setting up of the National Assessment Centre PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development)—place an additional onus on the CBSE to take the issue head-on.
Soothsayers have argued that a year-end summative examination cannot judge the future of a student. Despite this, an option to include the cumulative effect of internal assessment, periodic test scores and class 9 scores as plausible markers to prepare class 10 results faces opposition from the same people, defeating their earlier logic. The pandemic and the NEP 2020 are steering us again towards conducting more formative assessments that CBSE schools practised during 2010-15.
The new assessment—360 degrees, encompassing self, peer and parental feedback—broadens the scope of ‘assessment for learning’. It catalyses decision around grades, instructional needs and curriculum. Additionally, it would inspire educators to ponder learning outcomes, competencies and syncing of pedagogies, engagement and love for learning. The new scheme instils partnerships and collaborations amongst students from early on. Involving students in enhancing each other’s development and validating qualities and talents will help shape values and personalities.
All teachers know by experience that one cannot predict the future accomplishments of children from current abilities. Benjamin Bloom, we all swear by, said, “What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.” The quest for learning and evaluation, therefore, should focus on self-development and equity. Participation, doing thinking, research and presentation are the hallmarks of new classrooms where a teacher is a table-hopping participant. The teacher also enjoys the autonomy to plan activities with students and exchange feedback.
The mere logistics of conducting summative assessment for over 2 million students in class 10 alone makes us wonder how much worth the effort, time and cost this is? The actual price of conducting examinations is exorbitant. Several teachers—deputed as practical examiners, on invigilation duties, central evaluation and again for compartment exams—keep away from students for weeks. The opportunity cost of their absence is irrecoverable, ask any school principal.
Coming to classes 11-12, the rush for coaching, and a race for marks and cracking entrance exams lead to absenteeism and alienation from school life and from the best that campuses offer. A professor from IIT Delhi is researching why students seeking admissions in IITs do not exhibit adequate knowledge of India’s heritage, culture and values. While it would be instructive to know the findings, the fact remains that the coaching institutions—relying on cramming, competition and cracking—gleefully mock at the other Cs: creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.
The NEP2020 invests a lot in the last four years of schooling. Packaging the finest human qualities, community service, volunteerism, innovation and problem-solving in the teens can be daunting if they escape from the temples of learning to the coaching centres. Schools look the other way haplessly at these wilful, on-roll dropouts.
The NEP2020 states that “While the Board exams for Grades 10 and 12 will be continued, the existing system of Board and entrance examinations shall be reformed to eliminate the need for undertaking coaching classes.” Ironically, an incredible billion-dollar deal is reportedly through, reasserting the might of coaching, even before the ink used to draft the policy is dry. The pandemic has disrupted our lives concerning health and economic wellbeing like never before. However, the pandemic would administer a stress test to fix education is surprising.
The author, an educationist, is director, Ahlcon Group of Schools. Views are personal
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