Thursday, April 6, 2017

Renew The Classroom - Tackling Mass Cheating in Board Exams

Elections and Board exams are arguably the biggest “social” events in our country; so much so that the issue of the purity of these exams was raised by the prime minister in an election meeting in UP. While cheating is a global phenomenon, mass-cheating on the scale we witness in some of our exams, is not.
Cheating has gone beyond the technique of copying from slips or books and has institutionalised itself in many places. Examination centres providing various services for a price (even dictation to the examinees) are not uncommon. However, the menace has been sought to be tackled only at the level of examination centres. Little has been done to understand the various reasons that have, over time, made cheating an inexorable part of our education system. Isn’t it strange that many of our examination boards, like CISCE and CBSE, are free from allegations of mass cheating? Even in higher education, the examination environment in most of the state universities is very different from top engineering and medical colleges.
The reasons for mass cheating in board exams present a convoluted mass of interlinked issues, from pedagogy to the selection process for jobs. The poor quality of teaching in most of our elementary schools — in both rural and urban areas — is not a secret. The massive enrolment of first generation learners due to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in the last decade-and-a-half has only resulted in an influx of semi-literate students at the high school level who have aspirations for jobs but, unfortunately, lack in learning. Besides, the secondary and higher-secondary schools have also seen a massive lowering in quality due to various reasons of their own. Students enroll in these schools but prefer to go to coaching institutes for studies, turning these schools into mere registering bodies for board exams.
Since various certificates/degrees are mandatory for different jobs, a student obviously wants to possess these through any manner possible. The lure for jobs involving large-scale recruitments — like elementary school teachers and police personnel — done on the basis of marks obtained in the board exams, make our students and their parents strive to get the highest marks possible by any means. When the working of examining agencies like Vyapam in Madhya Pradesh or the Public Service Commissions in various states start losing their credibility, both the educational institutions and the exam system start losing their value and sanctity.
In this scenario of poor quality teaching combined with the importance of board exam results, students take recourse to unfair means. The examination centre facilitates the conversion of individual proclivities to a mass benefit arrangement — at a price, of course. The use of unfair means in the board exams undermines integrity and fairness at all levels. Each successive generation of examinees becomes weaker, resulting in the making of poor professionals. Just think of the values a teacher who is a product of this system will possess and propagate.
Given the gravity of the situation, well-planned, holistic measures are imperative. To begin with, academic supervision for quality should be ensured at all levels of school education. If the teachers are made to teach, there would be no reason to use coercive action against examinees during exams. Second, recruitment for 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 rote learning. Objective tests make examining easier but make cheating easier as well. Third, a semester system can be adopted in classes 9-12. This will reduce the burden on students and boards, ensure continuous evaluation and teaching, and reduce the dependence on coaching and guide-books. Finally, the board should frame questions requiring long answers and even allow text books in the exams. This will test higher order cognition and ensure “sustainable learning”.
The writer is an officer of the UP Education Service and a fellow of the Arizona State University
Published on the Edit Page of Indian Express dated 30-3-17 Link-

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