In an earlier article, I talked about our obsession with marks and percentage, and how it is having a debilitating effect on students who don’t make it to the 90+ per cent league. Also, all toppers don’t make it through key competitive exams. For example, given that more than 94,229 students of just CBSE board got over 90%, does it imply that all IIT/ Medical/ other such elite seats would be grabbed by these students? Actually not.
I get reminded of one of my consultations as a member of the National Education Policy Committee in an elite missionary school in UP: a girl commented, "Sir, my sister got 95 % in class 12th but didn’t qualify any competitive exam. What’s the significance of getting so high marks?". This sums up the outcome of the race for the 95% league. But still, there is a mega competition for marks. If we have to solve this, we need to look at where the problem starts and then, address it.
Now, let me elaborate on the competition for marks which is not just between students but also examination boards. I recall that during the ’90s, ICSE (Indian Certificate of Secondary Education) and ISC (Indian School Certificate) board was known for highest percentage and so other boards also latched on to the same. Thus, what primarily started with boards getting liberal in doling out marks, turned into students' race for getting the best of marks! The simplest way to solve this race of giving the highest percentage amongst various boards is to have a single national board like NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test).
Removing artificial barriers
Also, the criteria for competitive exams like JEE (Joint Entrance Exam) is 75% in class 12. Once we are going through a competitive route, this criterion sounds illogical. As long as one qualifies the competitive exam for a stream, it should be just fine. This will go a long way to reduce on the stress to get the minimum 75 %, as students aim at 100 % to ensure that even a strict marking doesn’t reduce achieving the qualifying criteria of 75 %.
Another reason why students score 100/100 is keywords-based marking. So, if the examiner finds the keywords in an answer, full marks are given. Here, the fundamentals of SAT (short answer type) and LAT (long answer type) questions is lost, and so we must move out of the keywords-based assessment. Examiners should evaluate a student based on the appropriateness of the answer and not just looking at keywords while allotting marks. Let’s not forget that the best scientists, doctors and engineers India has produced are from the 60’s and 70’s era, when even the engineering and medical entrance exams were based on LAT and not just on MCQs (Multiple choice questions), as is the norm today.
Today’s examination system is an assessment of the student’s memorisation ability of what is taught in a year, tested through a system of asking a few questions to be answered in a span of three hours, and the rest depends on the student’s memory, keywords and the assessor. We need to move away from mastery of content to mastery of competence (comprehensive assessment). The comprehensive assessment of students should be based on school curriculum and practical (50%), proficiency of life skills (15%), competence in co-curricular streams-- like sports, arts, music--based on individual abilities and special interests (20 %) and community work and societal impact (15 %).
Our population since the last education policy reforms in 1992 has increased by 59 % but the seats are still way too short of the demand. We need to address this as well. Also, students want to get the highest possible score to make it to government-funded elite institutions, as they have the lowest fee. So, the government has to seriously consider education as a social good and invest heavily in education.
It is time we did an evaluation of the topper students and average graders on what difference they made to the nation and the society. This will go a long way in convincing parents not to stress on scoring and reduce the peer pressure.
Finally, we need to project the number of jobs in each field - year-wise, so that people don’t just rush for IITs, IIMs and medical. There is a whole world beyond these streams.
Lastly, let us not forget - 90% league is a "system created" mindset problem and by changing the system, we will start the process of changing the mindset.
Prof. Rajendra Pratap Gupta is a leading public policy expert and author of the book ‘Your Vote is not Enough’.