Updated: June 3, 2021 7:49:31 am
The Centre’s decision to cancel the Class XII board examinations conducted by the Central Board of School Education (CBSE) is immensely welcome. It has done the right thing by backing away from a move that would have risked the health of lakhs of children and teachers in the middle of a devastating pandemic. The ISC has decided to do the same, and several state boards may follow suit. But beyond meeting the needs and constraints of the current moment, scrapping the board examination is also a progressive measure, one that might finally jump-start the education system into thinking beyond marks as the only touchstone for learning.
Of course, the challenge that remains for the boards and schools is not a small one. In the absence of marks, they will have to re-define their assessment for a gateway exam that leads to higher education. The CBSE has promised to devise “objective criteria” for evaluating Class XII students. Nevertheless, questions of neutrality and transparency will come up. While it is not clear what permutation and combination the board will finally decide on — using Class XI marks or pre-boards or internal assessments as the basis — no solution is likely to be flawless. What this underlines, again, is the sore absence of a continuous and diversified assessment of Class XI-XII students that could not only have come in handy in this crisis, but that also serves the cause of learning better. For years now, schools, teachers and students have adapted to a teach-to-game-exams mode that results in inflated marks and rote learning. It is also important to remember that the pandemic has already worsened the bite of a deeply stratified educational system; and the digital divide has deepened inequalities and vulnerabilities. The task for the boards — but also higher education institutions that take on the baton — is to find a less exclusionary way out of this crisis.
For colleges and universities, this is an opportunity to look beyond marks while ensuring a level-playing field for students from diverse social, economic and regional backgrounds in admissions. The cut-off system is obviously broken — and past its utility. They must urgently switch to a less mechanical way of screening applicants. That will mean investing money and intellectual capital in devising entrance examinations or multi-layered assessments that determine if a student is ready for higher education. As experts have pointed out, this is precisely the logic underlying entrance tests to medical, engineering and law colleges. The National Education Policy’s suggestions on this count — from putting in place a continuous tracking of learning in schools to a common university entrance examination — must also be fast-tracked. The crisis of the pandemic might well have a silver lining, if it can nudge the education system away from its hyper-dependence on marks and board examinations.
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