Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The whole merit system fails on use of unfair means at board exams

This article of mine appeared in The Economic Times on 28 May 2008.- The link is -
Come March every year and India’s education authorities devise newer schemes for controlling the perennial menace of the usage of unfair means in board exams. In fact, the problem is not India-specific , it pervades the whole of south Asia and China. There needs to be a comprehensive policy to deal with it. The alarming rise in the incidence of cheating in exams around the late 70s coincided with the growth of the middle class and its desire to get admission in medical/engineering colleges — most of which used to give admission on the basis of board-exams marks. The UP board’s brochure of 1992 exams proclaims that its high school pass percentage of 14.70 was the lowest in its history and the intermediate pass percentage of 30.38 was the lowest since 1969. The 1992 exams, it may be noted, were held under the very strict Anti- Copying Ordinance of 1992. The document, Challenges of Education, (circulated in the course of the formation of the National Policy of Education 1986) also stated that the exams and grades have generally lost their reliability. Realising the falsity of the boardexam scores, most good institutions have started admitting students on the basis of tests, but, the mindset of the society, in holding these scores as a measurement of a student’s calibre and the potential of his success in the job-market , remains.
The lure of high scores in the board exams can be understood by viewing the job-market . The board exam results are the basis of many large-scale recruitment by the government. Recruitment of Parateachers (Shiksha Mitra, Shiksha Karmi etc.) in many states, on the basis of merit, based on marks scored in classes 10 and 12 is one example. Uttar Pradesh, for instance, has 1,88,000 Shiksha Mitras at present and the number is to steadily grow because every new primary school has to have one Shiksha Mitra. The UP government has also recruited permanent primary school teachers under the Vishist B.T.C. scheme (numbering about 1, 20,000) on the basis of merit, based not on any test but, on board exams and B.Ed. marks. Thus, in such a scenario, boardexam marks can make or mar the life of many and therefore, they are to be had howsoever. The irony, that many thus selected primary-school teachers had been cheaters in exams, cannot be missed. Another important cause of student’s resorting to cheating in exams is the total absence of teaching in many of the secondary/intermediate colleges. In fact these colleges don’t have students but only examinees.
Cheating in schools with better academic environment has a different reason. The social pressure of expectations for results drives students to employ all means to score in exams. “Contemporary instructional processes contribute at best to lower order cognition, memorisation, and fragile learning; together they make a grand nexus for large scale failing in examinations . The competition for scoring percentage of marks creates unusual stress in the students,” says a CABE report. Coaching institutes and self-financed colleges promote use of unfair means for their own ends. A good result guarantees more clients next year. Lastly, there can’t be denying the fact that an impression is rife in the society that cheating is a fact in all facets of life and those who don’t cheat are tagged as fools for not understanding the system. What is a good student expected to do when he sees the mass around him copying and scoring as much as him, if not higher? Usage of unfair means in the boardexams undermines integrity and fairness at all levels. The whole merit system of the society is corroded. Each succeeding generation of examinees is weaker than its predecessor resulting in worse professionals, rather, society as a whole. In view of the above, well planned and holistic measures are imperative. Some of them can be listed as follows:
* Recruitment for all government jobs should be on the basis of tests and not on board-exam marks, thus reducing the premium on board-exams .
* Board exams should test understanding, not knowledge of rote. Objective tests make examining easier but make cheating easier as well. CABE Report 2005 says our exams are designed to examine the fragile learning due to memorising huge stock of information. It recommends sustainable learning.
* Semester or term system can be adopted in classes 9-12 . They will lessen the burden on students and examining boards, ensure continuous evaluation and teaching, and reduce dependence on coaching and guide-books as compared to the combined and accumulative course.
* The National Policy of Education 1986 had also advocated the awarding of grades not on the basis of one annual test, but, on the basis of periodical tests.
* The board-exams should frame questions requiring long answers and text books can be allowed in the exams. This will test higher order cognition and ensure ‘sustainable learning’ .
* CABE Report has dwelt on the importance of academic supervision to ensure quality secondary education. If the teachers are made to teach in the schools, there would be no reason to use coercive action against examinees during exams.
Measures to check cheating shall be successful only if they target the cause. And, there is no doubt that it has to be checked in order to have a healthy and vibrant society.