It is a tale of many committees — formed, forgotten and formed again. After almost a decade of nitpicking, delay and political wrangles, the latest committee’s latest recommendation on West Bengal’s Madhyamik examinations might take one’s breath away. The minimum marks in each subject in order to pass the entire examination should be raised by a catastrophic quantity of five marks. This mark is now 20 — and if the government decides to implement this recommendation in the winter session of the assembly, then it will become 25. This is being made to look like a major revolution in the government’s pursuit of excellence. But it must be recalled that the Ashok Mitra commission had set the ideal target for the pass mark to be 40 per cent ten years ago, in 1992. This is bureaucratic procrastination carried to the most absurd extreme, doing irremediable damage to the standard of higher education in the state.
This tardiness exposes the extent to which the entire marking system at this level is designed to pass as many candidates as possible, resulting in another impossible number of candidates appearing for the higher secondary examinations. The computation of marks is deliciously complicated and demoralizing. Subjects are clustered in groups and 20 marks in a subject entitles an examinee to make up the pass mark by taking on marks in excess of 30 in the other subjects in the same group. It is this mark of 20 which could be raised to 25. This amounts to an elaborate system of handicaps which is again designed to increase the number of overall passes. The damage does not, of course, remain confined to this level. It results in an impossible number of higher secondary candidates, which, in turn, forces the board to award grace marks to pass these candidates in droves. Meanwhile, the gap in standards between the secondary and higher secondary levels remains more than desirable, the closing of which was also one of the objectives of the original committee. This is yet again the sorry and ridiculous tale of an education system unable to come out of the stranglehold of party and state, spawning ineffectual and politicized committees which do nothing but degrade the very notion of academic excellence.