The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) chairperson has written a letter — but this is far from the upbeat “model letters” CBSE students are taught to write. In his note to Delhi University (DU) Vice-Chancellor Yogesh Tyagi, CBSE chief R.K. Chaturvedi has requested that DU award “appropriate weightage” to CBSE students applying for undergraduate programmes this year. The request comes after CBSE’s decision to not “spike” the marks of Class XII board examinees artificially, as per a resolution adopted by 32 schools. Hence, CBSE Class XII results are expected to register a dip. Given that other state boards may continue to inflate school-leaving marks, Chaturvedi has asked DU to give CBSE students a concession to safeguard their admission prospects.
This letter highlights everything that is deeply wrong with the higher education system — and CBSE is to be blamed for much of its malaise. The “moderation” system — wherein Class X and XII marks are tweaked to maintain parity in pass percentages and across diverse question papers for the same subject — had become an industrial practice under CBSE. Reports of CBSE students scoring dizzyingly high marks, year after year, became routine. Between 2012 and 2013, a report showed CBSE’s “95 per cent” club growing from 4,456 to 7,231 — a 62 per cent increase. A report in this paper now finds that the number of CBSE students scoring 95 per cent and above in Class XII rose 23 times in six years, from 384 in 2008 to 8,971 in 2014. The obsession with sky-rocketing marks caused DU colleges to hike their admissions cut-offs to Kafkaesque levels. In 2011, SRCC announced a 100.75 per cent cut-off for Economics(H) for non-commerce students.
By 2015, aspirants to Psychology(H) in LSR reportedly needed an aggregate score of 100.5 per cent. The marks craze has made schools focus overwhelmingly on exams, coaching and rote. It has robbed many Indian students of a most valuable lesson — you might not smash the score sheets, but you can learn nonetheless. Chaturvedi’s letter holds a mirror to a badly broken education system. But there is still hope. DU, for instance, could introduce more creative and visionary undergraduate admissions criteria. Oxbridge, for one, relies on a combination of a student’s school-leaving marks, the written material they submit, entrance tests and interviews. American colleges examine candidates’ admissions tests, sports records and their performance across diverse fields of creativity and enquiry.
Forsaking artificially boosted marks could give DU a golden opportunity to create its own admissions criteria that are imaginative as well as rigorous, introducing new vigour in a severely damaged system — one that seems to have taught those in charge of teaching relatively few lessons.