21 May 2019 05:19 AM

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RASHMI OBEROI | 9 MAY, 2019

The Vulgar Chase for Marks

Testing and marking systems need urgent revamping!


Straight off… I am going to blame parents and our education system equally for creating such a downright disproportional atmosphere surrounding studies and exams. Our marks-based evaluation is failing India’s education system with creativity and innovation taking a back-seat. Most of the schools and higher education institutions are in a race to ensure top scores and not on producing all-round individuals.

Yesterday, when we lunching a tiny café where voices naturally carried in that given space, I heard a father calling up his relatives and friends with a set speech ready: “My daughter has scored 90% marks. Yes she could have done much better and only got 84% in Maths and lost out on English”.

My better-half could see my BP rising. I wanted to go and shake that father and ask him if he was a moron. But looking at social media, there are many morons around. Parents lamenting their children’s poor grades as they haven’t got full marks in certain subjects…

Children really upset over losing a few grades here and there? What have we come to? And those children who have scored below 80% treated as social outcasts?? Seriously! There is no mention of the child who did his best…who tried but could only achieve so much.

Today, this is exactly how the education system is affecting the students in India. We have been conditioned to compete at every level. But is the correct way to go beyond the boundaries and do unthinkable things. There’s competition everywhere unfortunately. The idea that one has to fight for what one desires against whatever odds there may be, the idea of ‘us versus them’ has a deep seated place in our psyche. While being competitive is a good thing, it’s easy to overdose.

Parents who failed to meet their goals in their younger days want to fill that void through their child. And, if they see that their children are shattering their expectations, then they put a lot of pressure on them. Also, when you win a competition of any form, the expectations of people surrounding you suddenly increase. In this scenario, students become nervous about their next step as they are under scrutiny all the time. Over time, an unquenchable desire to stand out and out do one’s peers gets ingrained into one’s personality.

Thanks to the brainless competition, teachers often reward only the academic stars. Any form of creativity is discouraged, and risk taking is mocked. Our syllabus needs to nurture creativity, problem-solving, valuable original research and innovation. Getting good marks by memorizing does not create winners, but demotivates students who get weak scores.

Schools promote horrible and cut-throat competition and make students feel incompetent. So, parents land up enrolling their children into classes that make the process of education scarier. The pressure of being the best, the brightest and the smartest increases the stress. There has been a substantial increase in the number of cardiac patients due to the pressure of always winning. Things like poor nutrition, high blood pressure, heavy alcohol consumption and physical inactivity only make the situation worse.

This is a very troubling drawback of our poorly structured education system. It is a system that promotes peer to peer competition, rather than team work and one that accepts that the need of the one outweighs the need of the many. Institutions are busy injecting the syllabus and nothing else. It’s high time we make the process less harsh and encourage cultural understanding, civic sense and kindness. We need to pick this apart from its very roots, as the heart of the problem lies in the very philosophy behind the flimsy structure of our education system.

Our education system is the best case study if one wants to know what happens if there’s too less pie or if there are too many people after the pie. Our nation boasts one of the most unequal division of resources, especially in the education department.

Given the status quo, it is unsurprising that the lakhs of students have had to get down and crawl their way towards quality education. Part of the reason for the unreasonable cut throat competition is the sheer number of people after the suitably undersized pie. Companies and universities have limited capacities and only the ones who have mastered the art of war stand a chance of breaking into their secluded walls.

Our academic degradation begins from just the point where we have been caught by the horrible mania of securing unduly high marks without putting in required amount of labour. Our textual reading materials as well as our pattern of questions are no less responsible for the decline in the standard. For example, in the name of introducing communicative methodology of teaching, literature has been totally expunged from the curriculum though a mere symbolic presence is maintained by including a nominal few extracts which are of little use and utility to the young learners once we consider their contexts as well as importance in the evaluation process.

You must know that going against your parents will is almost regarded as a crime in India. And if by chance, you are able to convince your parents, you might not be able to get into your favourite stream because of your low marks. The student needs to sacrifice their passion just because they didn’t score well in the exam. Moreover, Indian students are just limited to the syllabus and going out of the syllabus is a violation. This is simply shambolic. The primary focus of the college is only on theory and attendance, while practical classes are just regarded as time pass.

The evil of rote learning is yet to be wiped out from a majority of Indian schools. Owing to the fixated style of question papers that have been doing the rounds in board exams from time immemorial, rote learning has continued. All the other evils of the Indian education system ultimately come down to the method in which students are marked.

Is it justified that a student is evaluated only on the basis of his/her performance for the duration of three hours of the exam? If the axis of grading and marking is shifted to classroom participation, project work, communication and leadership skills and extracurricular performance, only then will a genuine student shine out.

This might sound like a utopian proposition but the Indian education system badly needs to bring about this change. We need to have respect for all streams. How long are we going to look down upon vocational streams and look up to medicine, engineering, the IIT’s and the IIM’s? Students at the school level need to be educated through career counselling regarding the kind of streams that exist and what importance each of them plays to make an economy diverse.

We need to introduce combination courses in which students can opt for a major and a minor subject. Not everything is about numbers. Our sustem is based on a model that provides a single ground for testing each student’s intelligence. A country with a population of more than a billion and still we have the same set of tests for everyone. Almost as if they’re trying to turn us into robots. Those numbers don’t test your intelligence or how much you know. Students aren’t born thinking that about marks, it is this education system, the teaching models that trains them to look only towards one direction- MARKS!

Aren’t schools supposed to teach us about the real world? The fact that most schools don’t encourage extracurricular activities and only focus on academics, puts a lot of pressure on the student and it doesn’t balance things out. But more than the education system we need the parents to open their eyes and broaden their minds. The students need to be aware of the multiple careers options that are available. Which brings us to another important point – development of career council cells in schools and colleges.

We need to reward creativity, original thinking, research and innovation. Our education system rarely rewards what deserves highest academic accolades. Deviance is discouraged. Risk taking is mocked. Our testing and marking systems need to an urgent revamping!
 

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