NEP 2020 – Not a T20 in the making!

Two weeks ago, when I wrote a post that “Marks do matter”, I didn’t realise that a New Educational Policy (NEP) was soon going to be unveiled. The post was purely for the season.  If you haven’t read it, please read here. There was an overwhelming response to the blog with many readers agreeing to my proposition that, in the present scheme of things in India at least, marks do matter. I also understood that it is rather a grudging acknowledgement under the circumstances and not a wholehearted endorsement with glee. Most of us, having been on the rough end of the mark stick some time or the other in our lives, have been yearning for a different system of evaluation for the longest time.

Ergo, when the NEP was announced by the government last week, my primary interest was to see how it handles the “marks” conundrum. NEP has been in the works for a long while. I am aware that even among the sympathisers of BJP and Narendra Modi, there was a tinge of regret and disappointment about the government not making any progress on the education front during its first term. Frankly, I haven’t read the full policy document and have just read the highlights few times over. It is quite technical and without the domain knowledge, I haven’t managed to fully comprehend the implications of some of the proposals in the long term. But from what I read, see and hear, seems it is a well-intentioned policy framework and if followed through with meticulous execution, our country may be a different place in the next two to three decades.

Having said that, I would like to focus on few issues which bother me as far as education system in India is concerned and how this NEP tackles them. First, the issue of many education boards.

“Your daughter is in which class?

6th Std.

Which board?

CBSE. What about your son?”

This conversation must be very familiar to many. The latest class divide in urban/semi urban middle class society these days is manifested in the board of the schools in which children study. In the 70’s and 80’s, when I was growing up, this was not a talking point at all. Most of us were going to schools affiliated to State board with some going to CBSE board schools. However, post liberalisation and rise of aspirations and income levels in general, there is a clamour to put children in schools which are not State board schools. So, while CBSE and ICSE board schools are the ones which are sought after, the newest craze in town are the IB (International Board) schools. I am aware of the scorn State board students are subjected to, when they go for higher studies. The question is “Do we need different boards” that sow the seeds of a divide and discrimination in the society. Is there a case for a country wide uniform system of education whereby all students go through the same system without differentiation?

This is a tricky question to answer. At the outset, it may seem that the answer is obvious i.e. to have a uniform system that doesn’t differentiate and doesn’t end up discriminating students. In Japan, the Japanese rue the very standardised and uniform education system they have in their country. One of my Japanese friends use to say that their schools and colleges were like assembly lines. The output in terms of specifications are exactly similar because of which there is no diversity of thinking or ideas in Japan. So, the answer I believe is not in just one common board which has a standardised syllabus across the country. But continuing the existing system of different boards with a wide gap in standards and levels may not be the answer as well.

I looked at the NEP for its take on the boards. Education being in the concurrent list, first of all there cannot be a single National umbrella structure that can be implemented across the country. So, the NEP talks about the need for each board to ensure equivalence of academic standards and text books with a common core material and supplementing with local flavour and context and so on. I believe it is a via media solution to retain diversity with some commonality. In addition to this, one key point according to me, is the compensation of teachers and staff in State board schools. In order to ensure there is no discrimination in output (quality of students), there should not be discrimination in input (salary levels of staff).

The second issue is regarding the medium of instruction in schools. The NEP proposes that the medium of instruction until 5th standard and preferably till 8th standard and beyond will be preferably home language/Mother tongue/local language. It was later clarified that it is not a mandate but is left to the states to imbibe this guideline. English medium Vs regional language in today’s aspirational India is again a symbol of class divide in the society. In one of my earlier posts (Read here) I had argued that it is time to make English the common medium of language across the country. English may be a foreign language but it is the unifying language in India today. Like it or not, English has become the door opener for opportunities. While I agree that it is good to ensure a child’s proficiency with her mother tongue, making it the medium of instruction may be counterproductive.

And lastly, coming back to the “Marks system”, the NEP doesn’t seem to provide any alternatives but for changing the grading system so that the final board exam is not a make or break effort for the student. It says, “Board exams will be made easier, as they will test primarily core capacities, competencies rather than months of coaching or memorization.” It also talks about a more comprehensive and multi-dimensional approach to student assessments.  This is very good in intent and I think all parents and children would be keen to see how this works in real life.

Based on what I have comprehended so far, the New Education Policy signals a clear intent to bring in a paradigm shift in education in India.  It aims for a long term directional shift and so is a test match and not a T20 in the making!  Now, the devil is in the execution.

Pic credits: The Hindu

Now Showing – “Board Exams”

For this time of the year, the temperature in the last few days in Mumbai has been few degrees higher than normal.  One tends to attribute the same to the usual suspect called “Global Warming”.  But I suspect that the higher temperature this time overall is due to the “Exam fever” every house hold is seemingly suffering from – these days!  In India this is the season for the SSC (10th) exam and the “life threatening” HSC (12th) exams now and my best wishes at the outset to all the students who are going through the rigmarole.  Absenteeism in companies is at a high as parents take leave in turns to be with their kids and provide moral support as they prepare for the ‘board’ exams.  Film makers who aspire to be in the 100 Crore club avoid release of their movies in this tense period.  In these highly competitive times, board exam times are becoming “testing” times for the parents, grandparents and the ilk.  

I’m not sure if this aura around ‘Board’ exam is only in India or it is a universal phenomenon. India made a 1st step towards easing the burden on students when Kapil Sibal, the then minister for HRD, made the board exam for 10th standard an optional affair from 2011. I’m not well-informed on how this optional thing works or doesn’t work.   However the tyranny of the board exam continues for 12th Std to this day.

I have vivid memories of my tryst with board exams which started with the 10th way back in 1983. In our predominantly Hindu – Brahmin school in Trichy (by name E.R.Higher Secondary School), the hall tickets were handed over after a puja at the temple. On the appointed day, all the students and respective teachers of the 10th class were taken to the temple for the Puja. My neighbour and friend who used to be in a Catholic school said that in their school, the hall tickets were handed over after a prayer at the church. So I concluded that all religions took board exams seriously and board exams by nature were secular!  By the time I came to 12th there was no need to take the walk to the temple for collecting the hall ticket. The school by then made strides and collected enough funds to build a small temple within the school premises itself.  To take care of the Saivite and Vaishnavite sensibilities or rather their academic aspirations, the temple was built with 2 presiding deities – Ganesh and Hanuman

In a neighbourhood Ganesh Temple the priest – an old pious man would give us specially worshipped ‘vibhudhi’ individually to each of us to be applied just before we open the question paper.  During exam time, he reminded us kids not to forget to collect the same before the exam begins and we did so religiously.  As quaint as it may seem, the lines to collect this ‘vibhudhi’ from him were quite long during board exam times with even non regulars to the temple queuing up.  That the old man was carrying out this practice without expecting any monetary consideration is in stark contrast to the materialistic world of today.

As soon as the 11th exams were over, the preparation for 12th started.  The idea was to start early and complete the portions by Dec. In preparation for the 12th board exam in April, the classes get over by Dec and the next 3 months one is at home to prepare for the final kill. I must admit here that though the board exam fever was running high, we were quite relaxed and taking it easy.  So much so that we didn’t resist watching the entire Benson & Hedges World Championship of Cricket” which took place in March 1985 in Australia.  Following the World Cup win in 1983, India continued its winning stretch in One Dayers beating Pakistan in the finals in this tournament.   Watching almost all the matches live on TV with mates that too at a friend’s place and rooting for India bring back unforgettable memories. Ravi Shastri became a (to borrow today’s vocab) “hash tag” overnight after being crowned as “Champion of Champions” in that tournament and ‘Audi’ got into the lexicon of the Indian youth.   Looking back I realize that this tournament provided for a much needed break in between our continuous study routine and acted as a stress buster.

While one starts getting into the trappings of the board exams – the refrain all around is “prepare well for this one last time, get good marks and you are set for life”!!!  But the truth is far from it. The competitive rat race of life continues post the board exams as well.  Only that you start getting used to it!!! The jury is still out on whether academic excellence matters at the end of the day and is the passport to success. As somebody said, academic excellence may well provide you the “Passport” but you still need the “Visa”!!!

It is nobody’s case that there is no need for an assessment in the form of an exam. It’s just that a complete focus on one final exam puts so much pressure and one bad day in office or rather the exam hall can put paid to an aspirant’s career hopes in today’s system. A movement to a continuous and regular assessment is the way forward.  Can our pragmatic and hardworking minister Shashi Tharoor ring in a change ???

On a Sunday as I am writing this post, my six year old daughter is quite engrossed in the movie “3 Idiots” for the “N+1”th time.  As the main protagonist Aamir Khan launches his diatribe on the present education system which gives so much weightage to marks and marks alone, I’m not sure if she realizes what’s in store for her. I hope by the time she is in her 10th, the so called ‘board’ exams have lived their lives and have been consigned to history.  The selfish thought being we as parents will be freed of the ‘board’ Exam fever!!!

Let me close this piece now as I have to rush my daughter to the dance class for well ………. an exam 🙂 🙂 🙂

Postscript: If people who are in Twitter are “Tweeples”, people who suffer from Exams are “Examples” 😦 😦 😦

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