A child trying to “by-heart” lessons before an exam
One thing I feared the most in my school days were examinations. There were one too many factors to it, from an unacceptable concept that marks define who you are, to the troubling competition and pressure from parents and peers to score more. The anxious heartbeats when I get the answer sheet and the punishment and embarrassment I faced in front of the class for scoring low marks are times I wish I could forget. But right now standing in the shoes of a teacher and conducting an examination in the 5th standard, I can see the same fear in the eyes of my children.
But, what is the need for examination? From the ancient times of the Gurukula System to the Modern Virtual Learning System, examinations have been an integral part of the process. It is the test of our knowledge and learning ability. It has largely been a process of reciprocation and test of our memory power. But, it’s also the way in which a student gets promoted to higher grades. It’s an universal tool practiced everywhere in the world, accepted as the most effective way to determine the knowledge of students even though there are alternatives. Over the last few months of being a part of Shiksharth as a fellow, I have realized that while the concept of exams in itself is very stressful and can have many drawbacks due to its very premise of testing knowledge at one instant, policy makers can have a much bigger impact on how these exams are perceived and their effects on the students.
Recently, during one of my classes, I had the following conversation with one of the students:
“Exam nahi chahiye sir, humein pata hai aathvi tak fail nahi karunga” (No need of exams sir, we know that you can’t fail me till 8th grade)
Vikas* told me as I gave the students information about a class test. I didn’t know how to respond to that but I told, “this is to make sure that you are learning so prepare for the test.”
Later after class, I wanted to know more about the no-detention policy under the Right to Education Act but I found that the Parliament scrapped the No Detention Policy last January. Now I have an answer for Vikas*, or so I thought. The half-yearly exams happened during the last week of December; this was my first time correcting answer papers. It was a new experience for me altogether. During the correction I had another similar conversation, but this time with a teacher.
A fellow teacher told me : “sir kisi ko fail karna mat, kam se kam chauda pandra number de dena” (don’t fail anyone, at the least give them 14 or 15 marks)
To which I replied, “sir lekin abhi ye no fail policy nahi hai na” (hasn’t the no detention been removed?)
He replied “ nahi hai lekin yahan aise hi chalta hein sir” (yes, but this is how things are here)
Policies which come from a centralized source and aren’t contextualized such as the No Detention Policy can have a lasting impact on not only the students but also the teachers and the way they approach education. In this case they have taken away the entire purpose of examination
Also Read: RTE – A blessing or condemnation?
Similarly, during the first day of school of the new year, I was on my way to class, when the Principal called me and handed over three question papers, one of Math, Hindi and English and around twenty-thirty OMR (Optical Mark Recognition) sheets. The Education department of Chhattisgarh is rolling out OMR based examinations for the 3rd standard, 5th standard and 8th standard for the final examinations and in preparation for this there was a trial run to make the children make aware of the new method of examinations.
My immediate thought was how do I conduct a test with only one question paper for each subject. Writing forty five questions on the board with four options each, where some questions are picture based would be an impossible task with a two hour time constraint. I inquired if there can be more printouts taken but due to logistics issue it would not be possible. I went to the classroom and found that twelve children were absent. I informed the principal and he brought twelve children from the 4th standard and made them sit in 5th standard. The children started darkening the circles for the first time with no question paper given to them. One student after the exam told me “muche pata hai sir mein fail hone wala hun”. I had no answer for him.
I had many questions running through my mind. The 3rd and 5th standard students, who find it hard to even read and write simple sentences, were given OMR sheets for the first time in their lives. How does that help them? What is the purpose of conducting examination without even giving them question papers? What about the twelve absent students who will be seeing an OMR sheet for the first time in their final exams with no idea of how to write an objective-based question paper. These are times when examinations define you, where suicide rates due to failure in 10th and 12th exams are on the rise, should educational policy and innovations be made without understanding the contextual needs of the students and the environment they live in? What is the effect of this on students’ morale to study?
I remember reading somewhere ‘exams test your memory, life test your learning, others will test your patience. I happened to witness all these happening at the same time. It was so overwhelming on the first day in class of the new academic year, that on the same night I took to social media to unleash my anger, wrote a post to let go of my ethical frustration and slept off.
* Names changed to protect identity