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Why I will not mourn the removal of Class X exam

By Renu Balakrishnan
June 29, 2009 13:13 IST
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Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal last week announced the government's path-breaking decision to do away with the Class X Board exams and make it optional, and stressed on the need to de-traumatise education. Rediff.com presents an ongoing series from a cross-section of society – students, educationists and academics – on the HRD minister's revolutionary move. We kick off the first in this series with creative writing expert Renu Balakrishnan

Kapil Sibal should go the whole hog and remove the option allowed in this excellent move.

'This life is preparation for the next,' warn priests from pulpits. In the same spirit teachers warn tots in standard VI, 'You have the Board exam in four years, look at your spelling, you will never pass.' Thus they evoke the spectre of the Xth standard exams and leach out all the fun of the teaching-learning process in school from class VI.

During the last term of standard X, often even earlier, teachers cease teaching. They cover the curriculum and cover it again. "That is not in the portion," they say to children's questions. They discuss past question papers, they conduct mock exams for the apprehensive students and the fearful parents encourage them in the background.

Parents book 'specialist tutors' in 'important subjects', sometimes while the child is in standard VII. They pay large sums and are agitated when the tutor is fully booked.

Sabina, a single working mom, fights every single morning with her daughter: "Get up, Imaan, finish your homework; get ready for tuition, finish your notes. You have a test today, two tests tomorrow and a project to complete. You will be in standard VIII next year and then the boards will be only two years away."

"But it's Sunday, Mom…"

"No Sundays for you and me till you go into the XIth. Then we'll make up for all this, sweetheart."

"Akshay is in his room studying," says his mother to relatives who come to lunch. She has confiscated his football which is gathering dust from the time he was in standard IX. His comic books are locked away in a drawer and she intercepts the auto magazines his pals slip to him.

She is not the odd mom. Parents of most students in standard IX onwards discourage, even forbid, any reading other than course material, travel, participation in school debates or any other distracting activity. Why?  "You have the Board exam coming up," they say with a Dante's Inferno inevitability.

Why are a child's enjoyment of learning, his hobbies, his social life -- his childhood -- stalled? What does this all-powerful board exam do for him? The standard X exam of all Boards, for the most part, do not test skills or application ability; only memory.

The results of the exams may not give an indication of the child's aptitude. The student has to dumb down for the board exam. Examinations require them to stick to the straight and narrow. A 95 pc in math, for example, is not an accurate indication of a child's proficiency in the subject. Students specialising in subjects based on their standard X marks often feel later that they have made a grievous mistake.

At the end of class X the school can have an internal assessment -- "channelising tests" -- which helps children choose their streams. These are best done through an ongoing evaluation system throughout the child's career in school. The parents, teachers and counsellors guide the student.

Schools which have no Plus Two may opt for the boards. Better still, they can conduct an internal (ongoing from class I) evaluation of the child's abilities with suggestions as to which stream he should opt for. And send him on to the XIth standard ready to tackle with confidence his first boards in the XIIth.

Standard X is too early in a child's development for the spectre of a Board exam where all is lost or all is gained. An exam in standard XII is likely to be less traumatic because the child is being tested in subjects that he or she has chosen and is also old enough to face the inevitable stress of a Board exam.

When I was a Board examiner, I once got an answer paper where the child had copied the question paper over and over again in perfect handwriting. My immediate dilemma was, since the instruction to examiners said no 100 pc and no 0 pc, what mark do I give her? I left that to my supervisor. But I can never get that incident out of my mind. What must the child have felt when faced with that paper? Did she know nothing at all, or did her mind freeze? If she had sat without writing, the exam supervisor would have pounced on her. So she sat for two hours, meticulously copying the question paper over and over again.

Renu Balakrishnan, who teaches creative writing, can be reached at renu@rediffmail.com

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