Faced with a barrage of criticism, including in the Lok Sabha, over a comprehension passage in the Class 10 English Board exam held on Sunday, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), expressing regret over the “unfortunate incident”, dropped the passage and said full marks would be awarded to all students for the accompanying questions. The Board also said that it would review its question paper-setting process.
The passage, which featured in one set of the English question papers, drew criticism for being retrograde and offensive to women as it seemed to draw a link between “lack of parental authority in the home” and “the “emancipation of the wife”.
On Monday, CBSE issued a circular stating that the passage has been dropped, noting that it “is not in accordance with the guidelines of the board with regard to the setting of question papers”.
“It has been decided to drop the passage No. 1 and its accompanying questions of the Question Paper Series JSK/1. Full marks will be awarded for this passage to all the students concerned,” the circular said.
Since different comprehension passages had been featured in other question paper sets, the Board notified that full marks would be awarded to students for passage No. 1 for all sets of the Class 10 CBSE English Language and Literature.
Later in the evening, the Board put out a statement on Twitter, saying, “CBSE is committed to equity and excellence in education and promotes inclusiveness and gender sensitivity… CBSE regrets this unfortunate incident and is setting up an expert committee to thoroughly review and strengthen the question paper setting process, to avoid such occurrences in the future.”
The Indian Express has learnt that the Ministry of Education has written to the CBSE, seeking a detailed explanation. “The CBSE has been asked to respond on an urgent basis,” an official said. Another official said the Board was taken aback by the development as the person responsible for the lapse has been handling the task of setting up question papers for over two decades.
The closing para of the controversial comprehension passage had read, “What people were slow to observe was that the emancipation of the wife destroyed the parent’s authority over the children. The mother did not exemplify the obedience upon which she still tried to insist… In bringing the man down from his pedestal the wife and the mother deprived herself, in fact, of the means of discipline.”
Following the criticism, CBSE had referred the matter to a committee of subject experts.
Earlier on Monday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had called for the withdrawal of the passage in the English paper, terming it “atrocious, shockingly regressive and blatantly misogynist”. She also said CBSE should issue an apology and urged the Ministry of Education to conduct a review on gender-sensitivity standards of curriculum and testing.
The government’s refusal to make a statement in response to Sonia’s demand got the Opposition — including the Congress, DMK and Left parties – to walk out of the House in protest.
Drawing the attention of the government to the “nationwide outrage regarding a shockingly regressive passage in the Reading Comprehension session of the Class X CBSE exams held on December 12”, Sonia made a rare submission during Zero Hour in the Lower House.
“I add my voice to the concerns of students, parents, teachers and educationists, and I raise strong objection to such blatantly misogynist material finding its way into an important examination conducted by the CBSE. It reflects extremely poorly on the standards of education and testing and it goes against all norms and principles of… empowered society,” she said, adding, “The passage contains atrocious statements such as ‘women gaining independence is the main reason for a wide variety of social and family problems’ and ‘wives stopped obeying their husbands and that is the main reason children and servants are indiscipline’,” Sonia added.
According to the Congress president, the entire passage “is riddled with such condemnable ideas and the questions that follow are equally nonsensical”.
She urged the Ministry of Education and the CBSE to withdraw the passage immediately, issue an apology and conduct a thorough review into the “egregious lapse to ensure this is never repeated again”.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also took to Twitter to raise the issue.
“Most CBSE papers so far were too difficult and the comprehension passage in the English paper was downright disgusting. Typical RSS-BJP ploys to crush the morale and future of the youth. Kids, do your best. Hard work pays. Bigotry doesn’t,” he wrote.
With excerpts from the question paper going viral on social media platforms on Sunday, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had said, “Unbelievable! Are we really teaching children this drivel? Clearly the BJP Government endorses these retrograde views on women, why else would they feature in the CBSE curriculum?
(With inputs from Sourav Roy Barman)
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