By Kavita Anand
The board exam results are out. Schools have sent messages to the world at large about the success stories of their students. Getting a 100 is never easy, but the enormous fuss made of “toppers” makes us feel like that’s the only real achievement for a student. A few made it to the front page of national newspapers.
Others, just as good but with a few marks less, had to put up with endless phone calls from family and friends congratulating and consoling them. Those considered as having “done surprisingly well”, “done averagely”, and “scraped though” are glad that their ordeal is over and done with. No one is paying too much attention to the 10 per cent that haven’t made the grade.
Also, an anonymous undeclared percentage of the actual 2018-19 cohort did not appear for the examinations at all. Some of them got cold feet. Others were advised by their schools that they should not try this year. Most of these students either left school or were asked to leave.
As the stress and tension in the last 10 months faced by this group of students gradually dissipates, and the noise about their achievement gently fades, we will be left with the same fundamental question: How many of our students feel truly competent and confident about their future?
We have “educated” them for 12 years. Yet many of these students will not be confident about reading, writing and speaking at their age level and will listen sometimes without understanding what is said or being asked of them. When asked to answer a question they will want to know the answer. What we have taught them is to be obedient, do as they are told, be afraid of authority, value academic intelligence above all, be ceaselessly competitive, drop all activity that competes with examination preparation and memorise endless amounts of information.
Here’s a list of what most of this group and others before them have not learned to do: think critically, discuss different points of view, develop an argument, empathise with peers who are cognitively, experientially and emotionally different, think for themselves, ask questions, listen carefully to others, discern sources of information that are trustworthy, get relevant information, taking risks, learn independently, deal with anxiety, undertake research, demonstrate academic honesty, work with new and relevant technology, understand meta-cognition, make sense of data, know how to be safe and how to collaborate.
There doesn’t appear to be any correlation between higher grades and greater freedoms to students as to the career they wish to pursue. They are often gently but firmly steered towards an engineering or medical college. The less fortunate scorers ironically can sign up for ‘just any’ bachelors degree. I wonder which of them will remember or care about the grade they had got, in another three years. And whether in 10 years will any of them remember the overload of content that they had studied for the last 12 years!
Teachers who create the question papers have to judge whether it is easy to ensure that most students get much more than the passing grade. We teachers then ask ourselves whether the examination is an adequate measure of what we teach. And when recruiters aver that most students are ‘educated’ but unemployable, we know that schools and examinations are not fit for purpose and a re-haul of the education system is absolutely necessary.
It is critical for us to enable every one of our future students to succeed as academics, entrepreneurs, sportspersons, artists, performers, and every other kind of practitioner. And above all, we need to ensure they enjoy their years and years of learning, and that it adds up to much more than getting through an examination.
(The author is an educator, researcher, school and education system leader. She is Co-Founder & Executive Director of Adhyayan.)