CABE’s Decision on 10th Boards: Necessary but Insufficient

The 56th meeting of the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE) which ended on August 31 came up with an important decision of making the 10th board exams optional, which is also the first of many reforms waiting in the queue of HRD minister Kapil Sibal’s education reform agenda. This move, according to Kapil Sibal will reduce the stress on students. According to the new decision, the 10th board exams will be optional for students who are going to continue in the same school for higher secondary education. Students who opted out of board exams will be evaluated with a grade system and will be awarded grades in each subject by a method called Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation (CCE). In the CCE method students will be evaluated all-round the year. The academic year is split into two terms and each term will have an end-term exam with a weightage of 30% for the final grades. Each term will also have two internal assessments comprising of projects and assignments with a weightage of 10% for the final grades. The final grades will be based on the cumulative marks aggregated for that subject; for instance, 90-95 marks will acquire a student an A1 grade, 80-85 marks will get him/her grade A2 and E grade will correspond to a “fail”.

The move has received with mixed response among both the educational experts and the teaching fraternity. It will be helpful if we can safely agree for now that removing examinations will reduce stress to some extent for the student and concentrate on other merits the CCE system brings along with it. The grade based system that will be followed in CCE will bring in a host of benefits by simply removing the importance laid on mere numbers: There will be no rat race among students for top ranks; instead the competition will turn into a healthier one. The other refreshing aspect about CCE is the 40% weightage given to activity based learning including projects, assignments and alike. A curriculum which has space for such activity based learning is already being followed in some elite private schools (expect in/above 10th grade, when the learning gears shifts to focus on board exams). These refreshing learning methods can not only remove stress, but also can make learning experience enjoyable if the schools execute them properly. It might be noted here that the current curriculum might be too much loaded or a little bit outdated to give space for such learning: it needs proper overhauling.

Now, back to the core issue: Does removing exams really remove stress? Will the new design work? Well, the answer depends on many other factors. The first and the foremost factor is the attitude of teachers and schools. The Schools consider the board exams as a way of evaluating themselves and as a way in which they can pit their performance against other schools. In this regard the schools may encourage the brightest lot of students to take up board exams and score top ranks in the state. The other side of the issue is the parent’s attitude towards the performance of their children in school. Most parents want a perfect show when it comes to education. They severely reprimand their kids for small mistakes. This attitude should change and focus should be on learning (from mistakes) and not on perfection.

Another aspect of the problem is the administrative difficulties that a split among students (those who opt for exams and those who don’t) brings along. Many schools across the nation have already raised their apprehension about this issue. Many more have questioned on how students can be evaluated to allocate different streams for them if there are no standardized evaluation like board exams. Practically speaking these seem to be mere administrative issues and can be easily solved by a little out-of-the-box thinking: the focus is on delivering the right goods to the student whatever effort it may take.

The third more pressing factor in the issue is that of the student himself. Board exams are optional only for students continuing in the same school for 11th grade. The students may invariably opt for board exams so as to keep the option of switching schools open and still will have the stress of scoring high to get the desired streams. Additionally students and parents might be apprehensive of losing some privileges like scholarships if they opt out of board exams. Another facet of this issue is the students who opt out of board exams. Will he undergo the same curriculum (CCE also)? If not, will they lose the more exciting activity based learning sessions? These are open issues the policy makers should look into in the future. And what if the student who opted out of board exams has to change school because of unprecedented reasons? What if the school doesn’t provide a student who opt out of exams his desired stream? These scenarios look like a quicksand situation for an unsuspecting student. The schools have to incorporate enough flexibility in their system to handle such situations properly.

The broader question of why board exams should be optional, why not scrap it for all students and use CCE nation-wide can be given a careful thought. The main reason against this design is the administrative difficulties this design might give rise to. Schools as mentioned earlier feel it will be difficult to evaluate students and allocate them different streams. The grades given by one school cannot be trusted by another school. This problem can be solved by coming up with innovative methods of evaluation. The schools can use the projects, assignments done by the student as a part of CCE to evaluate the student apart from taking into account the grades alone. Projects, assignments can give good insight into the skills acquired by the student and even provide good pointers to what stream this student best fits into. In this regard the school may conduct a counseling-cum-interview mode of selection based on the CCE scores of the student. Standardizing of grades may be one another way, but it might be lead the system to fall back on the old board exam ways. Secondly some might feel that a teacher having power over 40% of a student’s marks can lead to abuse of such power. But this suggestion itself disgraces the teaching community and should not be accounted for. And even if such issues arise it can be easily solved by simple administrative policies like having a committee of two or three teachers evaluating a class for a subject, rather than one teacher.

As said before the CCE method has various merits and it has to be allowed to evolve more, into a holistic approach of teaching. This effective method can help us finding out the core competency of a student and also help us in guiding and shaping his/her career accordingly. If such an evolution happens, schools can effectively broaden the spectrum of career opportunities available to the students.

The CABE has taken a symbolic first step towards education reforms. Although this method has a lot of flaws right now, CABE should go ahead and scrap 10th board exams altogether. It will throw a lot of teachers and schools out of their comfort zone. But it is a necessary change. Teachers, students, parents and policy makers must work towards making it a success instead of lobbying against it.

Nallasivan V

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