The cancellation of the Class X and XII Board exams have raised a pertinent question – How do we know if our children have attained the expected learning outcomes, proficiency across curriculum, and practical skills at the end of the Secondary and Senior Secondary education?
In the absence of proofs and preparations required for excelling and obtaining the Certifications; how will they maintain their competitive edge and what will be the basis of getting admissions to Higher Education Institutes. These final tests are comprehensive, expansive, and stand alone. They are largely independent of the in-class and in school learning assessment. They also serve as criteria for college admission. And in these encompassing roles – a dual purpose of competency and competition assessment is served.
At this moment, of a COVID-induced rethinking of the exam structure; it is important to reflect on the long standing (from Kothari 1964) issues of quality of education and schooling and the highly fractured nature of student and school body, by social and economic class of students.
These do not diminish with time. Instead, as they grow, the gap widens - so children from poor families go to poor quality schools, and learn from poorly trained teachers, and perform poorly on learning outcomes and then show lower scores in these Board exams and mostly drop out. The population of students, we are talking about here, is a smaller group, which is further tiered into regional and central board, where a CBSE has a significantly documented edge in competition and competency.
Goals of Education Policy 2020 of ‘identifying and fostering unique talents’ can be better served by multilevel engagement of students and teachers and expanding the assessment protocol.
The Indian rote-based learning system is dismissed as archaic and mind-numbing, while project -based critical thinking is considered a relevant and current strategy by modern educationists and their lobbies. In comparative schooling structures like in USA, the emphasis is on forming opinions and on group projects.
However, picking this or that might be an oversimplification nested within western models of child development, liberal education ideology, and neo liberal economic policy. The first wants to cushion the environment instead of building resilient children, the second believes in keeping things macro and abstract, and the third needs people on assembly line plus accommodate growing AI influence.
Given the need of a fast-expanding, high-growth Indian economy, multi-tier complexity of social disadvantages, emergence of interdisciplinarity as a training principle, and the fact that Indian young folks will be one of the largest in a fast-aging world – their learning outcome and parameters are critically important.
Indian education system has two advantages, one is the rote; whereby knowledge is fed verbatim from across sources and builds children’s capacity for retention. Second is the inclusion of the global/US-centric model’s emphasis on describing competency in curriculum.
However, it is important to note that across grades and curriculum, including math, reading, and science, there is a discrepancy between expected competency and assessed learning outcomes as noted across several studies in India and in USA.
The competency model suffers from linear thinking. Secondly, excelling at the tests seems to be possible with strategies aimed at testing well – not at knowing or learning course syllabus. Finally, these are global measures of reflected competency, put together by a central body, with limited and disorganized input from teachers and industry -the two key stakeholders.
The testing model that we need must be multipronged and include in-class testing protocols with application and knowledge, both being weighted equally.
The third aspect should be the introduction of monitoring data on teacher’s adherence to the curriculum and the maintenance of quality of teaching.
Fourth, the aptitude tests should be introduced before the onset of high-pressure High School. The choices of curriculum and industry, and levels of occupation, should not be guess work; they need to be streamlined.
There is a catch here – the likelihood of falling into the China model of Higher Education; when Higher Education itself is state-controlled privilege and manipulated resource.
Finally, the career counseling should begin with education counselling around Class Vi and VIII.
The data on educational opportunities, its associated work opportunities, and its required competencies should be introduced in seventh grade. Two core aspects of global – US education that have to be avoided are 1. Introduction of additional curriculum during these critical years – such as civic or citizenship – the four years are critical and affect life choices and impact mobility and are motivating towards better performance. This is a reason for the global high achievement of Indian students.
The second aspect to avoid is the tailoring of the curriculum to meet the average child, while introducing testing to compete for better classes – called AP.
The curriculum must be updated and maintain its integrity and be accessible to all. Even average learning outcomes on higher-end knowledge is preferable to a dumbed-down curriculum.
Right now, some of the choices in this one-off-year are class averages - option of supplemental work for those at a disadvantage – negotiate and allow online exams for those applying to International schools. This is again a time to disaggregate - student needs by groups - deconstruct the message…
The writer is an Academic Coach and Author of Red Chilli Pickle and Moonlit Terraces: The Making of Indian Woman Hood– a book about growing up, schools, family and friends
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