By Siddharth Abraham, 2nd Economics
Not so long ago, on May 7, 2019, the ICSE and ISC results were declared for classes X and XII, respectively. The “Sharma-ji ke bete” mindset was in full swing as two students managed to score a best-of-four of 100%, becoming the first to ever do so. Even the 98.75% that Gaurav Mehta* scored wasn’t good enough, and his parents, who had been grooming him to be the best (read: highest-scoring) student in school, let their unhappiness be known to him.If you pause and think about this cycle that goes on year after year, it makes one wonder: what exactly is the education system today about? What is a student being tested on?
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that evaluates education systems by testing 15-year-olds in math, reading and science. India’s reaction to the 2009 edition results was surprising- it came next to last and decided to drop out of the 2012 and 2015 tests citing “socio-cultural” differences as the cause for such low results. China topped all the subjects in most of the test series, but, interestingly, other worldwide education ranking systems don’t even place it in the top three. Various sources suggest, and it is in fact true, that India and China face the same issue of basing intelligence on grades, marks and results. What this means is that students aren’t taught the subject as much as they are taught how to solve the questions on various exams.
How many times have we skipped a concept or failed to analyse different texts “not in the syllabus”? The answer is concerning.
A Wikipedia search for standardized tests in India reveals as many as 47 tests—the many board exams, Civil Services exams, the JEE and NEET, to name a few. Time and again, it has been shown that these exams aren’t really the best measure of intelligence or proof of having understood the concepts.
The Board Examinations, for instance, which “decide the fate” of almost every student in India, work only in favour of those who can hit the bullseye with the keywords mentioned in the model answers used for evaluation. A couple of cases have shown that even though someone might essentially be correct, if the answers aren’t worded exactly he or she may lose several marks over the course of the paper. This rigidity in the assessment system is a huge disadvantage for many students who are ostracised, not because they aren’t capable of learning, but because they aren’t able to fit into these schemes of testing. Their indigenous knowledge, problem-solving strategies and potential is completely ignored in the face of these exams which expose what they do not know.
In 2017, S. Anitha, a student from Tamil Nadu, committed suicide for not clearing NEET. She had scored 1176/1200 in her 12th standard exams in the Tamil Nadu State Board from a Tamil-medium school. It would have helped her secure a medical seat had Tamil Nadu not joined NEET. Anitha was from a poor Dalit family and couldn’t afford coaching to crack NEET. She wanted to become a doctor and would have been the first girl from her village to do so.
This is just a chilling reminder of how irrational standardized tests can be. Despite the fact that they make multiple state-wise tests unnecessary, they do not suit the fabric of a country as diverse as India. Instead of helping “choose the best”, they basically serve to eliminate and anyone who doesn’t score enough ends up feeling eliminated and unworthy like Anitha did.
It is time we realise that the present-day economy is headed in favour of individuals, not herds, and the “one test for all” approach is pointless and detrimental from a future perspective. The tricks and shortcuts adopted to cope with the excessive pressure to perform reduce the overall quality of education. In the process of focussing on the numerical indicators of performance, the process of learning is completely neglected—something which definitely shouldn’t be the case.
*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals