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September 5, 2009

No Exam Stress

On Monday, Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal made it official that the Class X examination of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) would be optional from the 2009-10 academic session. The much-awaited formal announcement came after the 56th meeting of the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE) in New Delhi that was attended by education ministers and officials from States. Sibal said that the CBSE Class X examination would give way to a grading system and students would be evaluated throughout the year. According to HRD officials, CBSE-affiliated schools that have classes XI and XII need not conduct the Class X examination, but that with classes up to the tenth standard may conduct the board examination. Under the grading system, students would be given grades like A+, A, B, C, D and E based on a continuous evaluation of their performance throughout the year. Many State governments, Sibal said, are happy about the new system but they need to evolve a consensus in their respective State assemblies to implement it in their secondary school boards.

While there is no denying that freedom from an annual board examination at the tenth level will go a long way in enabling students to shift their focus from pedantic learning to a more informed, innovative and pragmatic learning mode, their evaluation for grading them must be both valid and reliable. We dwelt on and elaborated this point right when the new HRD Minister gave an indication of doing away with the CBSE Class X examination. If the system of evaluating students throughout the year is flawed — that is, either not valid and reliable or based on the fancies of teachers who are in the business of teaching not because of their choice but out of compulsion as they are misfits everywhere else — we would say an annual examination is the same as any such grading system. Therefore, and with the kind of people who are joining the school teaching fraternity (after having failed to get jobs anywhere else), there is need for great caution in the matter of evaluating students. The parameters of evaluation must be well-defined, and there cannot be any room for subjectivity. The evaluating system must be consistent with the broader objectives sought.

The State governments should now seriously ponder the possibility of making remarkable strides at the level of secondary education by adopting the CBSE model of making the Class X examination optional. The objective should be to make education meaningful by removing the burden of an annual board examination that is often neither valid nor reliable and is based on an antiquated system of judging the merit of students. If Class X students in CBSE-affiliated schools are now freer and can, therefore, concentrate on the much-needed task of widening their knowledge horizon (even beyond the confines of their syllabus), their counterparts under the State boards must not be deprived of that advantage for long. Which means sooner the State governments make their State board examinations at the tenth level optional, the better it is for the intellectual health of the student community. THE SENTINEL

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