Sunday, July 9, 2017

Understand teenagers

Understanding Teenagers through Their Perspective
I want to raise an interestingly gripping issue which has been pricking my mind since last four days. The focus of this piece is the problems encountered by children. Interestingly, I wouldn’t reflect upon them from my point of view but I would try to portray the perspective of the kids as they go through an everyday struggle of surviving in this ever changing and ever demanding, competitive world. Before I go further I would state my belief firmly, once again, that children are not all wrong. I find it painful when today’s generation is bluntly labeled as ‘undisciplined, disrespectful, and casual about their future and even present’. I have discussed this issue a number of times but every time a child does not do well, nobody tries to understand the factors behind the results but they bluntly put the responsibility on the child.
Let us look at the case of a plant. It doesn’t grow all by itself. There are a number of factors that contribute in its growth like the environment and extra supplements provided by the gardener. If plants grow well then it means that the environmental conditions were suitable and the gardener nurtured it well. But if it doesn’t grow well then does it mean that it was the fault of the plant? Should the plant be held responsible as it did not turn out well? This is my question to the parents and teachers and I seek an answer from them. I am compelled to raise this issue again because of the incidents that took place recently.
The first incident involves a student who was brought to my notice as he was misbehaving and was reluctant in paying attention and submitting notebooks on time. The response of the parents was also inadequate regarding the issue. When the parents were called to discuss the issue the mother cried helplessly and complained that the child manifests inappropriate behaviour even at home. The father even accepted that the child is given money as and when he demands. This is done only to make sure that he doesn’t get involved in unfair means to acquire money when denied for the same. Interestingly,the child had never done so (stolen money) in the past. During the entire discussion the parents kept on blaming the child exonerating themselves from any responsibility and emphasizing that they have been providing ‘everything’ the child needed. But in this what they are forgetting is that material gratification is never fulfilling.
The second incident includes teachers and shows them exhibiting the same behaviour as the parents did in the above mentioned incident. When a child shows misbehavior or is reluctant to study and perform in the classroom activities, a few teachers blame the children for their behavior without probing into the matter or finding out reasons for such behaviour. Well, in some classes the students were found not paying attention to the teachers and wasting time or putting their head down while the teacher was teaching. When the teachers were asked for an explanation they responded that these students simply don’t want to focus or study in the class. When they were asked that what kind of efforts were made on their part to motivate them to study, they responded that the students were persuaded verbally. When they were further questioned that has there been any change after the persuasion or any other efforts in this direction, the responses were inadequate and unconvincing. Rather, the blame was put on the children but at the same time the teachers admitted that these students who weren’t attentive were actually not bad in behaviour neither hopeless in studies. I will not elaborate more on this discussion and the teachers indirectly conveyed that there was no problem on their part and everything was wrong with the children only.
In these situations, I strongly agree and you will also agree with me that a child is like a plant. The parents and teachers play the role of gardeners. If the gardeners are able to provide right environment then these situations would never have arisen. Well, this has been a common practice on the part of many teachers and parents that they tend to take all the credit for good performance of the kids perform well but blame the kids solelyfor their failure or misbehavior. If 90% marks are achieved by students then most of the teachers convey it as their achievement but in case the child doesn’t do well, are these teachers ready to take the blame as gracefully and own the responsibility?
Based on these incidents and others that have occurred in recent past, I wonder that most teachers and parents blame children for their own incompetence and frustrations. This might be taken as a strong statement but to me it reflects the situation in pure honesty and I will be happy to be corrected if someone can prove me wrong.Justifications, rights and wrongs could be discussed endlessly but the fact remains that the children especially many teenagers are suffering more because of the incompetence of their teachers and parents than their own, not only in terms of their achievements but also in terms of the values and behaviour they exhibit on daily basis.
Many parents and teachers do not understand the problems of teenagers of the present generation. It came as a revelation to me when I was going through a compilation of articles, stories and poems written by students of age 14-20 years, creatively portraying, through literature, their experiences and understanding of being and struggling as a teenager. I would like to share a few excerpts from the book to bring to light the turmoil the teenagers go through and the frustration it brings when no one understands. One of the write ups in the book has these thought provoking lines, “This age(teenage) is a period before and after the partition, which makes it the most painful. You are stuck in between of everything, you are neither a child nor an adult, you neither have your own beliefs nor do you believe in the set norms of the society, you are a rebel but your cause is not clear”. The Poems “You Know What Hurts” and “A Nightmare” lay bare the struggles of the teenagers of the present times. In her poem, ‘You Know What Hurts”, Khushi Arora puts forth the problems of a teenager, “You know what hurts? It is in knowing that you’re connecting yourself to many temporary people, who are not at all going to make it to ‘forever’, no matter how hard they promise to, but you still expect them to stay. It’s knowing that you’ve started hating the word ‘expectations’ because your heart carries a unique sky of your own dreams, completely unknown to the world and its expectations and waiting to be fulfilled. It’s knowing that the people out there will never stop complaining and pointing out on you, even if you try to burn the candle at both ends”. Shipra Roy in her poem, ‘A Nightmare’, puts forth some serious burning questions and issues that teens face, “Was this really your choice to live in a world of abbreviations (IIT,IAS, IIM, etc.)? Or you were forced by them, who believe just in appreciations, He, like a cousin asked me 'hey, met someone? Are you drowned into depression, Because of your mere obsessions? Are those lollipops changing into cigarettes? Are those friendships turning into relationships?”They unapologetically portray the fact that today’s teens are going through more complexities which weren’t pestering the teens of the bygone generations. The perspective of and about the teenagers, put forth in this compilation by the teenagers, is more important to me than any other point of view on teens. It is because, ‘who can know the traumas of teenagers better than teenagers themselves’?The emotional turmoil depicted in the write ups was an eye opener. I used to feel that I knew about most of their problems but now I realize that I knew so little.
There is another important issue that needs to be pointed out in this context. Media exposure on the teens of today is explicit. Radio shows, television shows, Youtubers need to understand the everlasting effect they and their advice can create on an innocent heart. A conversation that I heard on the radio station was shocking. A 26 year old boy asked an RJ that what should he do about the irritating questions all the uncles and aunties ask him in the marriage functions and parties, in reference to when and how soon is he going to get married. The RJ advised him not to attend such gatherings and went on to the extent of suggesting that if he happens to meet these uncles and aunties in a funeral, he should comment that it’s their chance, next. This statement is not at all funny and is extremely derogatory and disrespectful towards elders. I don’t expect these people to be social reformers but how could she compare a happy occasion to something as heart wrenching as death? These statements could have extreme negative effects on the impressionable minds of the teenagers. This program was aired in the evening time when people travel from their work place to home and usually switch on radio.

Based on the issues discussed above I want to convey my point that each one of us should realize our role in shaping the future generation. I request the parents and teachers not to pass their incompetence and frustration on the children. Kids these days are facing problems that the previous generation didn’t experience. Let’s think in the light of this perspective. Parents and teachers will have to show tremendous faith and patience so the kids can trust them. These children are precious and can work wonders with proper guidance and trust that we need to attach to their choices and actions. They are our identity, so instead of blaming them only we need to correct ourselves also. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Restoring Faith In Evaluation System

Central Board of Secondary Education, New Delhi is one of the largest exams conducting body/board in the world. It is renowned and respected for providing base to the students and teachers and is all important for its progressive approach in the field of education. Though, in our country we have more than 38 boards, but CBSE remains in focus more than any other board, including ICSE. The reason for this, maybe, that the board comes directly under the supervision of HRD ministry and is also considered to be one of the most active board which believes in innovation in the field of teaching and learning pedagogy.
This board came into existence in 1962. It then had 309 schools affiliated to it. It has grown in size many folds and as per the data of CBSE website, it has 18694 schools in India and 211 schools in foreign countries affiliated to it. Out of which, 1117 are Kendriya Vidyalayas, 850 are Jawahar Navodaya Vidualaya’s, 2720 are Government/Aided schools, 14 are Central Tibetan schools and 14253 are independent schools.
The prime focus of CBSE is to:

  • ·         Reform the evaluation and examination practices
  • ·         Regularly updating the pedagogical skills of teachers and school administrators.
  • ·        Provide skill based learning by adding job oriented and job linked inputs
  • ·        Introduce innovation in teaching and learning methodology.
When we read the main objectives of the board on the CBSE website, the words quality and excellence feature quite a number of times. It is heartening to know that the objectives of the board emphasise on increased quality and excellence, but has the board lived up to its reputation and fulfilled the set objectives?

There have been a number of instances when the students were considered to be the tools of experiment and changes were enforced in the name of reforms without seriously realising the effect they could have on them. This has especially happened in the last 6-7 years when CCE pattern was introduced mid session. Very recently, CCE has been abolished and the annual examination system has been reintroduced in class X. The schools have been directed to follow a fixed pattern of evaluation from class VI onwards. In the last few months CBSE has been in the news for certain decisions taken abruptly, for example doing away with the moderation policy, which drew a lot of criticism from all corners, parents and students alike. It was only after the court intervened that CBSE continued with the policy of moderation  and declared results accordingly.

Since the results were declared there has been a lot of criticism based on the marks obtained by the students in some subjects from different regions of India and abroad. Very recent news revealed that on verification the marks have increased by more than 200 % and the students who had been declared failed, passed in one or more subjects. Morevover, till last year CBSE supplied the photocopy of answer sheet if applied by a student and rechecking was done, but once again, CBSE has scraped the recheck policy, though, the photocopy of the answer sheet is still available. Some students and parents have already approached the court against the no-rechecking of answer sheets and they are expecting court verdict soon. I do not understand why CBSE should not continue with the rechecking policy, even when a large number of students are not satisfied with the marks obtained by them.  CBSE gave the reason that it had constraints of resources so they stopped the practice of rechecking. If this is so then why the number of schools has been added to this unmanageable number? They also say that only 0.21% students got change in their marks after rechecking, but does CBSE not care for even one student? Even if one student suffers this cannot be ignored. CBSE please realise that every individual is important. Are these .21% students not important for CBSE? Should they suffer because of the negligence on the part of the examiner? (who is also a so called respected teacher).

I can say from my own experience that last year in our school, after re-evaluation, 8 students had  an increase of 5-15 marks in the subject of English. This changed their percentage and increased their chances of getting admission in reputed colleges, significantly. I think that the marks of more students would have increased if other students and their parents would have been more vigilant and applied for the photocopy of the answer sheets. Their marks were increased, despite the fact that there was a limit of getting only 10 questions rechecked. If this condition was not there, maybe, the increase in marks would have been much more.

I do not know, if any action was taken against the examiners who played with the future of the students due to this casual approach while checking the answer sheets. When we talk of quality, it should be in every aspect of education, including teaching, learning and evaluation process. Unfortunately, based on the result that students get every year, the evaluation process and the quality of evaluation process desires a lot of intervention on the part of the authorities. Has anybody tried to review the system and tried to find out the lacuna and problems faced by the examiners or the CNS (Chief Nodal Supervisor). On the basis of my experience, I can say that the teachers who act as examiners cannot be necessarily blamed for the entire problem in the evaluation process, but probably the system in which they work needs a overhauling.  The board and annual examination of all the schools are conducted in the month of March. The teachers are involved in the evaluation of the answer sheets of internal students and at the same time they are given the duty of evaluating the board answer sheets also. Most of the schools begin their new academic session from first of April onwards, so the subject teachers are required to teach students in their respective schools and also evaluate the answer sheets for the boards. Due to this, the teachers get pressurized and are at times unable to focus on their additional work, which is as important as teaching, if not more.  In many a cases, the teacher appointed by the boards tend to say NO for this important work, because of some genuine problems (health etc.) and many a times because of travel distance etc. CBSE on the other hand wants to have the answer sheets evaluated and dispatched to the regional offices, within a stipulated time, across the country. So the head examiner and the examiners are under stress to finish the work as early as possible, because board has to declare result on time. These are very few points that I have raised which might be contributing to the problem of bad evaluation by some examiners. Hence it is suggested that if the examinations of board and schools, be conducted in the month of March or April and then the summer vacation is declared. The new session can start from 15th June onwards and in between the evaluation work and result declaration can be completed. This way, the examiners can commit themselves completely on evaluation work and erroneous checking on their part can be reduced significantly.

Also, the children will be more enthusiastic in joining next class in the month of June, after enjoying their summer break with their family and friends (as it used to be earlier followed by most of the state boards). The excitement of going to the next class has been lost because there is almost no gap between Annual exam and the date of commencement of the next session.

As I mentioned in the beginning that quality and excellence are the key words in the objectives of CBSE, hence the quality and excellence should never be compromised for any reason because this can harm the future of the students who work very hard throughout the year. CBSE must understand that if the evaluation system was proper, then, so many students would not have applied for verification or rechecking of the answer sheets.  But mind it that CBSE alone cannot do everything. The schools and teachers should also commit to ensure that the task of evaluation should be done more seriously. The students and their future is of prime importance to all of us (not just parents) ,hence this is the collective responsibility of all concerned to review and revisit the entire process of evaluation and take corrective measures at the earliest possible.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Change in examination system

Changes in Examination System vs. Effective Learning

“The purpose of learning is not to give exams in class and forget about it, but to increase the knowledge and being able to apply it…”

The issue I want to address in this piece is not only relevant but significantly connects to the idea of the conflict that arises time and again between the examination system and effective learning process.
We all know that the Central Board of Secondary Education has formally junked the continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) scheme for classes IX and X, which was being followed in affiliated schools since 2009. Replacing it from the academic year (2017-18) is a new format — 'uniform system of assessment, examination and report card' — that aims at standardizing teaching and evaluation across schools. (Source: TOI NEWS)
While it could be seen and appreciated as a good initiative as it aims at combating the discrepancies and loopholes of the former CCE pattern, but at the same time it has created a state of apprehension and panic for a particular group of people i.e. the parents whose children are going to appear in CBSE class X Board Examinations to be held in 2018. The burden on the students to perform well under the age old pressure of “boards” has surfaced again and they are still in a state of dilemma and ambiguity as they have been “trained” according to the CCE pattern from the initial stages of their school life. This change in the pattern has also posed a great challenge in front of the school management as there is a sudden change in exam pattern and marking scheme and the present 10th class has to be prepared to face the boards in the limited time period. The new format is supposed to be a "gradual movement towards quality education through standardization of teaching, assessment, examination and report card and to gradually prepare the students for Class IX and higher classes where they will have to appear for exams for the entire syllabus”. But is it really a “gradual” change for present class 10th?
Under the CCE scheme students were assessed based on two term-end 'summative assessments' and four 'formative assessments' (two each in each terms). Sixty percent of the assessment was pen-paper tests, while 40% formative assessment during the year was continuous evaluation by teachers based on various activities. The new scheme too has two terms, but the pen-paper test weightage will be now 90%, which includes the 80 marks of the half yearly or yearly exam and 10 marks of the 20 marks set aside for periodic assessment in each term. Each term will be of 100 marks of which 10 marks will be for note book submission and subject enrichment (five marks each) under periodic assessment. While the half-yearly (term 1) exams for all the classes from VI onwards will be based on syllabus covered till the exam time, the syllabus for yearly exams will have a slightly different format and these exams will increasingly cover more of term 1 syllabus. Classes VI-VIII will have first term exam from the syllabus covered during this period and term 2 exam as follows: VI entire syllabus of second term + 10% of first term covering significant topics (left to the teachers and schools), class VII entire syllabus of second term+ 20% of first term and class VIII entire syllabus of second term and 30% of first term. Classes IX and X will have three periodic tests and the marks of best two will be counted in the final result. The final examination will be of 80 marks with the entire syllabus included.
The apprehensions and fears were recently reflected as I had an interaction with the mother of a class 10th student. She expressed that it would definitely be a challenge for her child to cope up with an entirely different examination pattern as he has been trained differently since the beginning of his school life. This is undoubtedly a matter of concern for the parents of the students who would appear in boards in 2018 as the time span to adapt to this change is less and obviously they would not get any chance to improve and learn from the ‘experience’ once they appear in the final exams.
Revolutionary changes always aim to bring a big difference. Let’s talk about GST, in this context. Goods and Services Tax (GST) is an upcoming system of taxation in India which will merge many individually applied taxes into a single tax. It was introduced as The Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act 2016, following the passage of Constitution 101st Amendment Bill. The GST is a Value added Tax (VAT) proposed to be a comprehensive indirect tax levy on manufacture, sale and consumption of goods as well as services at the national level. It will replace all indirect taxes levied on goods and services by the Indian Central and state governments. It is aimed at being comprehensive for most goods and services.
 An empowered committee was set up by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee administration in 2000 to streamline the GST model to be adopted and to develop the required back-end infrastructure that would be needed for its implementation. In his budget speech on 28 February 2006, P. Chidambaram, the then Finance Minister, announced the target date for implementation of GST to be 1 April 2010 and formed another empowered committee of State Finance Ministers to design the road map. The committee submitted its report to the government in April 2008 and released its First Discussion Paper on GST in India in 2009. The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Second Amendment) Bill, 2014 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on 19 December 2014, and passed by the House on 6 May 2015. In the Rajya Sabha, the bill was referred to a Select Committee on 14 May 2015. The Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha submitted its report on the bill on 22 July 2015. The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 3 August 2016, and the amended bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on 8 August 2016. The bill, after ratification by the States, received assent from President Pranab Mukherjee on 8 September 2016, and was notified in The Gazette of India on the same date. 1 July 2017 is fixed as its date of commencement. (Source: Wikipedia)
The reason I traced the entire development of the GST bill in India is to present in front of you a detailed idea of how a significant issue that is largely bound to change the face of the economy, is dealt with. Economic issues should definitely go through such stages of scrutiny but this brings us to the big question. Is education any less important than economy? If not, then why was such a revolutionary change introduced all of a sudden? Shouldn’t the authorities be more careful while bringing about changes in education and examination system? This we saw happened in the mid of 2009 also when CCE pattern was introduced in the midsession (fortunately this was notified before starting of the new session).After all, progress of any country whether economical, social or political lies on its effective educational system. Keeping this perspective, aren’t the frequent changes made in the education system, based on the whims of changing ideas of the authorities, alarming for the educational scenario of the country at large?
The reason behind raising the above stated questions is to request the authorities, especially the one regulating the education system, to be more cautious and thoughtful before implementing such changes. As education should always be an active process aiming for better learning and understanding and examination should be an assessment of what is learnt. And this could only be done successfully when the students and the institutions imparting education are considered the pivot around which these policies revolve and not the other way round.

“Education is not the amount of information that is pushed into the brain and causes havoc there, undigested all through a lifetime. Education must be a symposium of life-building, character- making and assimilation of ideas in the pursuit of building a more harmonious, peaceful and truly civilized world.”