What is next for students if not board exams?

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From continuous assessment to a common entrance test—what schools are thinking

Kaira Sethna, a class 9 student of a Mumbai school, has her daily schedule packed with online school classes and then Kathak and ballet classes. On weekends, she makes informative YouTube videos on pet care and even volunteers with an NGO that works with stray animals. Her mother ensures that Kaira isn’t glued to her study books despite teachers asking students to focus on “board exams” next year. “Children need to discover the joys of new experiences and learning through their high school years rather than being obsessed with grades,” says her mother Shruti. Sunita George, principal of Bombay Scottish School, Mahim, agrees: “Doing away with board exams will be the way forward. It will encourage more creativity among students and flexibility in the classroom. There are so many who stop pursuing sports or the performing arts.”

The cancellation of Class 10 and 12 exams by national and several state boards has fuelled a discussion on whether board exams can be replaced in the near future. Even as the various education boards work out alternate assessment methods for this academic year, educators are debating on the value that annual board examinations bring to a student’s learning experience. While some believe that the ongoing year-round assessment is a better judge of a student’s capabilities, a few feel that a common examination offers a level playing field without suspicions of biases or corrupt methods. A few educators have argued in the favour of entrance exams testing the skills and aptitude of students pursuing higher education.

Continuous assessment

Even as the CBSE and state boards work on a proposal to consider marks of tests conducted throughout the year, educators are studying if an alternative to board exams could soon become a reality. “If the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) gets implemented fully, board exams may be a thing of the past. Soon, these exams will have no relevance as we move towards value-based education that focuses on the holistic development of students,” says Dr Mohan B. Rao, professor and associate dean at IES Management College. The motive of NEP, he explains, is continuous assessment instead of an annual examination which puts undue pressure on students.

Entry and not exit

A common entrance test for various courses could be more effective than having a board exam at the end of a student’s school life. Rao says that the government is evaluating a common entrance test for all courses instead of only for professional courses, which is currently the norm. “This will help get parity among different boards at the time of admission to colleges. At the same time, exams at the entry level will reflect the competence and skills of the students suited for the course they are choosing,” he says. Prasad Shetty, an architect and dean of the School of Environment and Planning g in Mumbai, agrees with the suggestion of a common entrance examination. “We should rethink how we deal with the questions of evaluation, learning, application and relevance,” he says.

Common playing field

Relying only on internal assessment by schools may not offer a level playing field since teachers from different schools may mark students differently. This will impact a student’s chances of securing admission to undergraduate courses in colleges of their preference. A board examination is often the only motivation for students to study. “Few study for the pure joy of learning, so in such cases, they at least study for an examination. How do you measure how much they have understood, retained and are able to apply from whatever they have learnt. A common examination is essential to distinguish the truly motivated or the not so motivated,” reasons Meena Talpade, a former professor of English at Mumbai’s R.D. National College. in Mumbai, agrees with the suggestion of a common entrance examination. “We should rethink how we deal with the questions of evaluation, learning, application and relevance,” he says.

Educators also fear that biases, favouritism or corruption may creep into this method of assessment. Ira Bogra, principal of Doon International School, Mohali, says that an assessment at the school level may not be fair to all students and a common platform is essential at the Class 12 level. She suggests that common board exams can be held twice in a year instead of one annual examination, so that students who may miss one exam because of ill health or accidents can take the next one. However, she recommends a change in the format. “The questions should be such that students will have to apply their learning. This will help avoid rote learning,” she says.

Time for change

Taking the pressure off board exams, say educators, can put back the joy of learning and allow schools the flexibility to design classroom sessions to increase engagement with students. “As a country with large numbers, we need some standard benchmarking or standardisation method but that can be done through entrance exams. By doing away with board exams, schools can focus on the skill sets and on holistic development of students rather than merely preparing students to chase a number or a score,” says George, whose school is affiliated to the ISC board. Schools, too, she says, are ranked on the basis of the score at board exams which is a “skewed method of ranking.” Delhi-based psychotherapist Alka Mahajan asserts that the purpose of education should be to “make the learner not only career ready, but also life ready.” This requires new methods of learning and assessment. “Assess the students on the 21st century skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity and prepare them for life,” she says.

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