Were you among those who thought that the old television commercial where the little boy sat cramming through the night before his examination, while his caring mother boosted his energy with a hot drink was on its way out? Just ask Kanika Rungta and shell tell you how the advertisement still rules today.
For the last several days, the Class IX Delhi student has been staying up late, working on a project for her geography class. She had to present a forest scene with the help of newspaper cuttings, data, pictures and information on different kinds of forests in the world. Her geography teacher looked at the first page, and returned it to her without a word.
If school board exams were scrapped to reduce stress, I certainly dont understand the system, says Rungta, who has completed five projects in less than a month.
Join the club, Rungta. Thousands of students and teachers across the country are getting entangled in the new system of education evaluation announced by human resource development (HRD) minister Kapil Sibal. Last September, Sibal scrapped the Class X board examinations under the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) from 2011 and introduced the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system. Its critics hold that it is continuous all right, and pretty much incomprehensible.
Six months after its implementation, there are few takers for the CCE. The workload, both students and teachers complain, has gone up. The stress has now passed on to parents and teachers as well, says Ravi Arora, examination head at the Kendriya Vidyalaya, Ganganagar, Rajasthan.
Thats why Delhi homemaker Natasha Malik rarely attends social gatherings these days. I am usually busy making project reports and quiz props for my daughter, she says. Delhi teacher Nidhi Rai spends half her working hours on devising assessment modules and converting marks into grades.
Sibals brain child part of a slew of educational reforms envisages a nine-point grading system in which A1 is the best you can do, and E2, the worst. It was implemented in the last semester of Class IX in the current academic session.
The system seeks to do away with the competitive stress of year-end examinations by putting in its place a practice that grades a student through the year. This is done through a series of measures regular tests, projects, curricular activities and so on. Students are marked for taking part in anything from debates to dramatics.
The CCE, Sibal says, intends to bolster multifaceted growth, discouraging the one- dimensional exam-oriented study. It will bring out the inherent talent of children, he says.
The ministers aim is laudable. Indeed, academics point out that exam-related stress has been one of the worst by-products of the Indian education system, leading to several cases of student suicides. Not surprisingly, when Sibal announced his reforms, there were hosannahs all around.
Now not many are as enthusiastic. The board examinations have been scrapped, along with the age-old marking system. But stress, they maintain, is not just there, but mounting.
Take the case of Britya Ghosh, a student at Mahadevi Birla Girls High School in Calcutta. On an average, Ghosh has to sit for two to three tests a day and submit at least three projects a week. This new system was supposed to reduce stress, but students are feeling even more burdened, says Ghosh.
Under the new system, the Board now has to evaluate students through the year. It has to assess their scholastic or academic performances through written tests and their co-scholastic activities, which include extra-curricular work.
Teachers, in the process, have been thrown into the deep end. They complain that they spend all their time assessing how a child performs in tests or behaves. They look at a childs social skills (that means how he or she adapts to others), emotional skills (how he or she deals with personal crises, for instance) and values (how he or she distinguishes between right and wrong).
Used all these years to a system which gave or deducted points on the basis of a right or a wrong answer, the teaching community is suddenly evaluating a child on a whole host of parameters that were earlier not in its purview. How can a teacher assess each and every childs move in a class of 50, asks a science teacher of Delhis G.D. Goenka Public School. A teacher handling five classes would need to assess 250 students on scholastic and co-scholastic areas.
And while this is true of private schools, the number of students that a teacher assesses in a government school is far higher. After all, the CBSE is not the only board to have adopted a continuous evaluation method. The West Bengal Board of Secondary Education put the practice into effect for classes V to IX last year. Under the scheme, students have to sit for five unit tests a year, one oral test and an annual examination. The report card reflects marks along with grades. Often teachers complain that they are unable to complete the syllabus as tests have to be conducted regularly, says Sutapa Bhattacharya, the headmistress of Madhyamgram Girls High School, West Bengal.
The old board system was roundly criticised for all that it subjected students to a huge workload, back-breaking examinations at the end of the year and related stress. Students are still complaining about huge workloads and related stress. Teachers are worried about the increase in paperwork and parents fear they dont know the system well enough to guide their children.
Because of extra pressure, teachers may just overlook a childs strengths and weaknesses. They could even be biased, says Anjali Verma, parent of a Class IX Delhi student. Calcutta homemaker Sujata Chatterjee is worried about students losing focus. And Patralekha Guha Majumdar, whose son studies in South Point School in Calcutta, stresses that the new system offers no relief.
The Board is aware of the negative feedback. It has been getting reports from schools ever since the introduction of the new system.
The idea of CCE is stress reduction, says CBSE chairman Vineet Joshi. All projects and activities should happen as class work, says Joshi.
The CBSE is doing what it can do to iron out the problems. Software is being developed that would minimise a teachers paperwork. Starting next month, a Mentoring and Monitoring programme would be initiated by the CBSE to ensure uniformity in CCE practices across schools. Mentors (principals, teachers, educators) selected by the Board would conduct random surveys and interact with students and parents. Based on their feedback, the gaps will be filled, says Joshi.
The system has already managed to win over some people. This new system is a good one, says Dyuti Shaw of Mahadevi Birla Girls High School. I find it easier to learn lessons now that we have class tests throughout the year. I can cope with both projects and tests.
The principal of Springdales School in Delhi, Ameeta Mulla Wattal, believes the system will unearth a childs real abilities. Rote learning and pen-paper evaluation are easy to perform. But now we want to assess knowledge gathered through everyday life experiences, says Wattal, who has also actively worked on the CCE manual and conducts teachers training workshops.
Some also point out that the system works very well in the West, where both academic and extra-curricular achievements count. But the teacher-pupil ratio in western nations is far lower than that in India. According to a report, India has one of the lowest ratios of teachers in the world. The US has 3,200 teachers per million people, India has 456. The student-teacher ration in the western countries is 1:20, in India it varies between 1:30 and 1:50.
In India, the CCE would be disastrous in the present situation, declares educationist Samar Bagchi. In government schools evaluation wouldnt be proper and there would hardly be any teaching left, he adds.
K.J. Joseph, principal, The Sagar School, Alwar, believes that while the CCE is a noble effort, a childs load will not be lightened. In a country where too many students compete for a handful of higher education institutions, marks will always matter, he adds.
Sibal, however, is optimistic and feels the teething problems will be tackled once the first batch of students rolls out in 2011. This effort is fundamentally to prepare children for the future, both for their careers and to become better citizens, he says.
Rungta would pay heed to that if she werent so busy with her next project.
■ Board exams have been scrapped from 2011
■ Instead, CCE, a continuous grading system, has been introduced
■ CCE has four ‘formative’ assessments — through group discussions, quizzes, projects, oral tests, skill tests, visual tests, physical education and a comprehension test
■ It also has two ‘summative’ assessments — through conventional written tests
■ At the end of secondary school students will get report cards that will reflect both formative and summative assessments of
classes IX and X
■ Helps in the all-round development of a child by focusing on different areas of study
■ Inculcates self discipline by making students go through regular assessments
■ Aids students who are not academically inclined by zeroing in on their other skills
■ Discourages rote learning
■ Every day is like examination day
■ Students used to rote find it difficult to adjust to the new system
■ Projects are often prepared by parents or professionals
■ Academically inclined students feel that too much stress on extra-curricular activities dilutes the curriculum
■ Teachers’ biases can affect the grading
■ Teachers feel over-worked