The Coronavirus has bared many realities and unearthed the redundancies across various processes and systems. We realised that Healthcare is not a ‘system,’ ‘fundamentals’ of the economy are not ‘strong’, and that the government is of the people, by the people, but not ‘for the people’. The truth remains that every sector the government has ignored for decades has come back to haunt us, and we are paying a heavy price as we deal with pandemic.
Covid-19 is a reality check for speeches and action, promises and deliverance, and statements and their results. Our failure to handle the pandemic can be attributed to not investing in education. Finally, with all our great scientists, businessmen, administrators and politicians, we still have to come to terms with the reality: education let us down, and an invisible virus made us realise the harsh truth. There was a complete failure of systems, strategy, and science.
When I was drafting the BJPs election manifesto in 2014, I put two points after a lot of careful thinking. One was about bringing a new National Education Policy (NEP) and the other was about health policy to steer the nation with a long-term vision. Our health policy was approved by the cabinet in 2017, but education policy is still not out. In a sense, it may be attributed to providence. Covid-19 has brought to light our need for a new education model and we must utilise this opportunity to redo our NEP.
India has become a degree factory with about 31.5 crore students, which is larger than the population of the United States. These 31.5 crore students will define the future of India. As a member of the 9-member National Education Policy committee, I visited schools in villages in the remotest part of the country, the missionary schools, government-run schools, and colleges - right till the IIM. I had discussions with students of all ages and from all streams. I recall a student in Varanasi standing: "Sir, my sister scored above 95 per cent, but she didn’t qualify any competitive exam, then what’s the use of scoring such high marks?" She was right. More than a year ago, I delved into details about our broken education system. Despite the increasing number of above 90 percentage holders, we have an increased joblessness and mental health issues. Post-Covid, these will aggravate.
My two-year-old nephew has to attend an online class at 7:30 AM. He sleeps, and his mother attends it with the camera off. How do you expect a two-year-old to respond to a teacher trying to engage him by singing and dancing to make a point? Now, almost every student and teacher is attending classes online. When these students attain their degrees, more than 90 per cent jobs of today would not exist. There would hardly be any fulltime ‘jobs’. The world would be a ‘task – contract-based ‘GIG Economy’. So, the most pertinent question will be whether our current education system will lead us to a brighter future?
Since the education policy has not been announced and in the hindsight, it appears to be a godsend opportunity to go back to the drawing board and redo some fundamentals. One of them is to change the examination system, or instead teach in a manner that the examination system and marks become redundant. Whether you score 33 percent or 93 percent, the potential employer will ask you: "I don’t care about how you passed or what you scored, tell me what you can do (competence)?"
Whether we scrap the examination system, or make it an open book system, or we make it a system based on competence assessments done round the year, this quarterly, mid-term and annual examinations must certainly be done away with. We need to make the examination system redundant so that people don’t trust the marks. Once we undo our examination system based on marks or grades, Newton’s 3rd law of motion will come into effect, according to which, for every action, there is an equal and an opposite reaction.
Let us consider what could happen: students may not study hard or follow a curriculum or go to school for want of attendance? That should not sound bad. Because through this approach, they will focus on the most important thing if they have to earn their livelihood or build an enterprise – skills and competence.
Students of a non-examination dependent education system will know what matters for success. The interviewer will not have mark sheets to look at for A+ grades. The scores will be irrelevant, and the examiner will resort to checking the practical knowledge of the job seeker. The student will have to focus on application-oriented education, rather than the bookish system of today.
Today, the world is full of examples of such luminaries who changed the domains without attaining a degree. It is time to understand that the examination system should not be regarded the same as the education system. The examination system has outlived its significance, and the only way to address this is to do away with examinations. Let us make knowledge paramount.
During one of my discussions with the students on the changes they wanted in the New Education Policy, a class 8th girl of DAV school in Panvel said: "Sir, in the past decades, the education system made India a developing nation. This time, in the NEP, do something so that we become a developed nation." What a profound statement, but unfortunately, our current system of education will never make India a developed country. Doing away with the grading and examination system could be the starting point for a new thinking for the future. Under the exemplary leadership of Modi, Indian education expects a radical change.
(Professor Rajendra Pratap Gupta is a leading public policy expert, a former member of the National Education Policy Committee, Government of India, and author of the book ‘Your Degree is Not Enough – Education for GenNext’. Views expressed are personal.)