EXPERT VIEW: Too Crowded at the Scoring Top

Recent CBSE and ICSE board results threw up perfect and near-perfect scores, but does that show that our students today are so exceptionally good, or that the examination and marking systems are thus skewed?

The results of CBSE and ICSE boards are out. Marks-wise, students have done exceedingly well. Two students in ICSE (10th) have got a perfect score of 400/400 and they are joint toppers. Sixteen students share the second position with 99.75% marks in aggregate. The third rank goes to 36 students with aggregate marks of 99.50%. In CBSE 10th examination, out of the 17.60 lakh students who appeared for the examination, 2.25 lakh students scored 90% and above marks, while 57,256 students got more than 95% marks. Thirteen students got 499/500. In CBSE 12th results, the 95% club soared by 40% to 17,690 and a staggering 94,299 students scored more than 90% out of the total 12,18,393 registered students. Many students scored 100% marks in individual subjects, which included 1818 students in economics; 660 students in political science; 478 students in Hindi; 72 in Physics; 373 in Chemistry and 726 in Mathematics.

Logic - defying?

Students do deserve appreciation for the outstanding performance and congratulations to them! However, without any attempt to lower the credit of the hardworking and sincere students, there is a need to analyze the examination system, particularly of the CBSE and ICSE boards.

The spectacular results of the present have to be seen in the backdrop of the past. Perfect score means that the zenith has been reached. The 100% score in a few subjects is understandable but 100% score in all subjects, including language papers, defies logic. It will be a matter of great satisfaction for the country if we have kids of exceptional merit these days, but can marks scored in the examinations measure that? In the past, this happened once in the case of our first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, when in the Calcutta University examination, the examiner commented that the examinee was better than him. Even he did not get perfect scores in all the papers. Our Nobel Prize winner in Physics in 1930, Dr. C.V. Raman did not get perfect scores in his board examination.

Case of cracking the exams

Students getting above 80% aggregate in the board examination, used to be toppers then. We had bright students even in the past and we have a large number of over competitive bright students today. The high marks procured is because of our education system and the examination pattern. Marks are awarded based on model answers to the questions. Students prepare hard and they are taught how to crack the examination. Mushrooming coaching classes also render their services in explaining the mechanics of the examination and how to score high.

What we promote is cramming

The problems associated with the high score results are many and they have to be analysed. The high score is given if the answer papers of the examinees are in accordance with the model answers given to examiners. There are cases when the student is creative and he writes something which is technically correct but his writings do not fall within the parameter of the supplied model answer. Such students get lower marks as the examiner is constrained to follow the dictates of the model answer. This means that we do not encourage creativity or out-of-the-box thinking. What we encourage is cramming and vomiting in the answer sheets as they are the prime instruments to crack the examination and score high marks. We cannot produce Einstein or Steve Jobs just by cramming certain paragraphs unless the young students apply their mind to think and think differently. Einstein himself said, “I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

Unnecessary pressure

There is an associated rat race for scoring high in the present system of our examination. Parents pressurize their children to score high and compare them with the high scoring children of their friends. This adds to the psychological pressure on young children and we see cases of suicides. This is counterproductive to the health of the young minds and it harms actual learning. Young students, in many cases, develop an aversion to studies and they start getting frustrated. Fear of examination is instilled in young minds. The problem gets worsened, as in, our system, the high score in the board examinations is considered necessary for getting admission into good colleges and eventually to a better livelihood. Students not scoring high are considered second-grade citizens which adversely affect their growth.

‘The fact remains that examinations in any educational system can never be bypassed. It is like the surgeon’s knife which is good for us, despite the fact that we may not like it. The crying need today is to make our examination system healthy. Reforms are needed’

Ridiculous cut-offs

With crowding by the high-scoring students at the top of the pyramid, the admission process in good colleges becomes highly competitive. The cut-off marks in many good colleges become so high that they look ridiculous. In some colleges of Delhi University, the cut-off marks are always more than 95%. This frustrates students even getting more than 90% marks, as they do not get admission in the colleges of their preference. Such unnecessary frustration at the young age of 16-18 is not good for our society and eventually for the country. We have a regular spectacle of worried children who have scored 60% and parents who run from one college to another for getting admission. This also gives rise to the unethical practice of capitation fee in some colleges.

Our high scoring examination system defeats the very purpose of education. The examination system is treated mainly as a means to livelihood, influences the young to regard knowledge from a purely utilitarian point of view as the means of making money and not as a gateway to wisdom.

The examination result is considered as the sole criteria for eventual success. People forget that the examination results do not define you as a person and/or predict your future. As John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”

Our education system, which is badly supported by our robotic examination system, produces only job seekers but not job creators. We produce roughly about 50 lakh graduates every year, out of which about 15 lakhs are engineering graduates. Employers say that most of them are not educated in the true sense as they do not have the skills required and also are not innovative. We produce graduates mainly for clerical grades, and as there are not enough jobs in this grade, we keep on adding to unemployment.

Boards going over-board

Another fallout from our high scoring board examinations is an unhealthy competition among various boards to give more marks so that they beat the students of other boards while seeking admission in good colleges in the country. In this race, some traditional state boards suffer as they do not award such high marks as CBSE and ICSE. In order to overcome this, some colleges resort to reserving seats for students passing from the state board of that state. This reservation policy divides the country and the students from backward states which do not have good colleges, do not get admission in good colleges of other states.

Imparting education is much more than teaching the art of cracking examinations. Young students can be groomed to become scholars, scientists, artists or for excelling in any field they choose by proper educational teachers. Einstein said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” The importance of the role of teachers in grooming students has been aptly said by Alexander the Great, “I am indebted to my father for a living but to my teacher for living well.”

Having said all this, the fact remains that examination in any educational system can never be bypassed. It is like the surgeon’s knife which is good for us, despite the fact that we may not like it. The crying need today is to make our examination system healthy. Reforms are needed.

‘The high marks pro- cured is because of our education system and the examination pattern. Marks are awarded based on model answers to the questions. Stu- dents prepare hard and they are ‘taught’ how to crack the ex- amination’

Pass in honesty

I conclude this column by giving a live example from our history. The Nobel laureate Prof. C. V.Raman after retirement wished to open a research institute in Bengaluru. So he put up an advertisement for recruiting research fellows. Many eager scientists applied as it was an opportunity to work with Prof. Raman. In the preliminary selection, five candidates were selected. Next day, when Prof. Raman was taking a walk, he found that one young man was waiting to meet him. He realized that he was the same man who was not selected in the final interview. The Professor asked him what was the problem and he replied that there was no problem except that he wanted to return back Rs.7, which was paid to him in excess for the interview. He added that the accounts department did not take it back and asked him to enjoy it. The young man said that it was not correct to keep the money which did not belong to him. The professor took the money back from the young man. After going a few steps forward, he asked the young man to meet him the next day at 10:30 in the morning. The young man was happy with this invitation as he would meet the great scientist again. When he met the professor the next day, the Nobel laureate told the young man, “Son, you failed in the Physics test but you have passed the honesty test. So I have created another post for you.” Later on, this young man too became a Nobel Laureate in 1983. This young man was Prof. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (US citizen of Indian Origin). He has written a book on how the seven rupees changed his life.

The moral of the story is how honesty made a great scientist. The academic lacking can most often be made up with proper guidance and hard work but not the lack of moral values. Examination result is important but it is not the end-all.