With tensions running high, COVID-19 has made a comeback with sharpened belligerence. Amid this disorder, education has suffered a body blow with schools and classes getting disrupted. This has wreaked havoc on the lives of the children and parents alike. The disruption is to an extent that the CBSE had to cancel and delay the board exams of Classes 10 and 12 respectively.
What is more worrying is the abject opposition to the cancellation of exams shown by a section of teachers and parents. Probably they are acclimatised with and convinced by the fact that the process of learning is deficient without exams and that exams prepare the children for the possible challenges of life. Exams, they believe, will help us face competition, learn about the polarity of life – that is success and defeat – and accept the pecking order.
Nevertheless, a few questions need to be raised in order to understand the current structure of education which is overly dependent on exams and meritocracy. Do we need to exclusively rely on exams in order to test the intelligence of our students? Will the process of learning and evaluation not work if exams are done away with?
The system of examination in India, which is one of the most diverse countries socioeconomically and socio-culturally, is discriminatory. Class divide and digital divide, alongside the perpetual rural urban dichotomy, have always been overwhelmingly contrasting. A student from a government school living in an underdeveloped and underprivileged town of Bihar or Rajasthan can never be placed equally with a student of a top grade private school from Delhi or any other tier-1 city. Yet both the students, reading the same textbooks, have to appear in the same exam conducted by CBSE and compete with each other. Consequently, in this illusion of equal opportunity, their performances are unequivocally going to vary. And the unequal placement of these two students on the competitive ladder cannot be entirely concealed behind the not so supposedly uniform and biased system of examinations merely because, every once in a while, the child of an auto-rickshaw driver or a tea vendor scores 95% and finds her way in newspapers.
Theoretical education with a dearth of practical learning or research and over-emphasis on grades and meritocracy has only led to students getting anxious and frightened and lacking in confidence. Our students are dispossessed of sustainable and fruitful learning experience. Majority of students, in this merit based system, are not ideally good at studies but are good at writing exams. They strategise their learning in order to write exams. By doing this some of them perform fairly well and most of them manage to pass. The result is that the learning is not internalised, hence impacting analytical thinking and perpetuating rote knowledge.
Moreover, our teachers are not equipped with the understanding of how children learn and how to assess the growth of a child. In our competitive system, higher grades are the only way to move ahead. Our schools and coaching institutes have imbibed in our students that the right approach is to study only as much as the curriculum requires you to study and there is, of course, no time to explore, research and enquire. Besides, the system that creates the so-called ‘exam warriors’, nurtures paranoia, mistrust and subjugates a student’s individuality. This leads to a more lopsided, off-balance and divided social organisation, lacking in harmony and concord. And we as a society condone and affirm the system of meritocracy and exams and flip our children into this cycle of excellence and failure.
In actual fact, one does not need a lot of intelligence to understand the conditioned rigidity inherent in our examination system as it is still of the same character as imposed on us by our colonial masters more than a century ago. While the education system in England (on which our education system is originally modeled) has evolved into a more benevolent and comprehensive process of evaluation, focusing attention on subjectivity and justice for every child.
Coronavirus has forced us to reconsider our lifestyle. Therefore, we should think better of education. Our children should become tolerant, composed, considerate and sensitive. Scientific temper should be implanted in them. Above all, amid glorification of merit holders and vilification of those who couldn’t score well, we need to realise that our children deserve more than the scourge of exam centricity and meritocracy.
Poras Sharma is a postgraduate in Philosophy at Hindu College, Delhi University.
Featured image credit: LiveWire