Covid-19 has made a virulent comeback, having put 260 million children in India through uncertainty and continued struggle with online learning. Class 10 board exams stand cancelled, and in a one-of-a-kind phenomenon, the new academic session for the board exams of 2022 has begun, even as the 2021 edition is far from over. Obviously, this has given the jitters to parents, children, schools and academicians, who are left guessing the way forward.
The fear of missing out on board exams begs a necessary question: Is it because board exams set the real benchmark for students’ abilities? Or, because there is no time-tested alternative evaluation mechanism? Good assessment is at the heart of good education. Our board exams pit students against one another in the so-called “race to the top”, which is actually a race to the bottom; it is a dogged attempt for teachers to finish the syllabus, and for students to memorise a whole lot of factoids.
The CBSE not affording a cut in the syllabus for this year and the next, stems from this very test-oriented mentality. With sharp digital divides, internal assessments as an alternative to board exams cannot take place on a level playing field, and could end up being counter-productive for some. Why? Without in-classroom instruction, students have already regressed by at least a year on the learning curve, and a huge chunk has fallen off the grid. Clearly, the task ahead of governments and schools is to focus on remediation of students and close the learning gaps, rather than steadfastly hold on to dogmatic assessments. This remediation process needs to be fitted into the usually packed academic calendars for at least the next few years.
Meaningful online learning should be seen as a more important goal than syllabus completion. Evaluation and assessment should not be seen as ends in themselves, but instead as important means for achieving better student outcomes. What should then comprise conceptual/competency-based student evaluation models?
Teachers at The Scindia School, Gwalior, offer a few suggestions. Bring the continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) system back or introduce semester examinations as proposed in the National Education Policy 2020. Class 12 students could opt for board examinations in only three core subjects of their interest. For example, students who wish to study computer engineering can appear for examinations in computer science, physics and mathematics. Apart from alleviating exam pressure, such a mechanism would help even out competition for college admissions.
On the whole, we need to move towards formative assessment systems that measure performance throughout the process of learning, as opposed to the end. The good news is that most of this has been recognised in the NEP 2020. It calls for a 10 per cent increase in application-based questions every year, and a complete revamp of the exam pattern by 2025. The NCERT, CBSE and other agencies have been working on textbooks and examination reforms. Now that we are compelled to transform, such efforts require greater urgency.The pandemic has taught us tough lessons; at the top is the need to recalibrate our system to deal with disruptions. Covid could be an opportunity in disguise—the fillip needed to fundamentally revamp learning objectives and our assessment mechanisms; to urgently act upon the statutes of the NEP 2020, and to build a more resilient student evaluation system for the future. And, that future is now!