Five years after the then human resource development minister, Kapil Sibal, nudged the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) into making board examinations optional for Class X students, the country’s premier school examination agency has reportedly decided to make these examinations compulsory again. The CBSE has also asked the schools affiliated to it to implement the three-language formula up to Class X. The Union minister for human resource development, Prakash Javadekar, has said that Sanskrit will be “mandatory” for students in north India while students enrolled in CBSE schools in south India will have to study Hindi. Javadekar has clarified that this should not be seen as a move to impose Hindi. But when the HRD minister roots for one language, the government stands the risk of reigniting old tensions over the language issue. The decision on Sanskrit also defeats the original purpose of the three-language formula: Teaching a modern Indian language, preferably from south India, apart from Hindi and English in the Hindi-speaking states.
Almost every government change in the past 15 years has been accompanied by a change in education policy, whether that of curriculum or related to examinations. The T.S.R. Subramanian Committee on Education had warned against political interference in education. Given that pedagogy has a political purpose, some politics is unavoidable. But the wounds caused by the turmoil over the language agitation in Tamil Nadu, for instance, have long healed and the government should be careful to not open them up again in a state with a long history of resistance to the imposition of Hindi.
It is nobody’s case that the school education system in India should not be reformed. But changes have rarely been well thought out. Take the move to make the Class X exams optional. It was believed that the board exams stressed students, tested their rote learning and did not make allowances for different types of learners and learning environments. But the UPA government’s decision to replace the Class X exams with the continuous comprehensive system of evaluation has run up against problems which should not have been difficult to foresee. There is much fuzziness around what is to be assessed and how. There is no mechanism to use the evaluations to ascertain a child’s educational growth. Teachers have complained that the process adds to their workload. That said, in India, the board exams acquire disproportionate weightage in a student’s academic life. Instead of raking up politically-fraught issues, the CBSE and the government should address these problems.