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.” 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Details Create The Big Picture

The topic I would be reflecting upon in this piece has an interesting origin. Deciding to explore the field of economics, I picked up Ruchir Sharma's, The Rise and Fall of Nations. It indeed rethinks the -dismal science- of economics as a practical art. Sharma explains how to spot political, economic, and social changes in real time, narrowing the thousands of factors that can shape a country's fortunes. Interestingly, the part that caught my attention was a beautiful introductory tale. It goes like this. A prosperous king wants his young son to learn the importance of details and nuances that is generally missed by a non observant mind. In order to let him accomplish this he sends him to a dense jungle. On his return, the son narrates that he could hear the tiger roaring in the jungle. The father asks him to return to the jungle and observe things deeply. This time the son returns to tell the father that he could hear certain other animals in the vicinity of the forest. Once again he is asked to observe and the process goes on. Every time he returns being able to observe a detail much nuanced and descriptive than the previous one. He even hears the ruffling of the leaves, buzzing of insects and the serene flow of the wind. The father is finally satisfied with his son when the he comes back and reveals that he was able to predict what was about to happen in one corner of the jungle before it actually happened.
Out of so many messages that this story gives; the most important one is the fact that “beauty lies in details and a mind forewarned is forearmed”. And the key to acquiring this quality lies in the sheer idea of ‘keen observation, paying attention to details and reading between the lines’. Once you learn to deal with an idea, information or a situation with a broader perspective, giving all the possibilities around it a proper chance to unveil, you realize how many ways could actually be there to not only understand but also to deal with a situation. “Anyone who teaches knows that you don't really experience a text until you've taught it, in loving detail.” There is a lot of importance given to the idea of observation and attention to details in the teaching-learning process. As said through the above quote a teacher is able to cover a topic or a chapter well when she/he takes it up in detail. Similarly, students are able to grasp every bit of it only when they are made curious about the nuances of the concept. Once they get involved in the chapter they become interested to know more.  Our education system in the past produced scholars and enabled people to develop so they became learned person in real sense. But our examination system in the present scenario is faulty as it is marks oriented, which does not encourage students to take a free leap into the world of imagination.
Getting into details is like meditating. When teachers begin with their career, their initial performance is not par excellence but as they get time to go deeper into a subject and explore it in detail, year after year their knowledge deepens and they are able to teach the chapter in a better way every time. When children are given an opportunity to teach their peer or fellow students they are able to understand the chapter or topic better. Reading a poem or a chapter again and again gives them a better insight into it. Children are curious by nature. How interesting even a heavy duty cell becomes when a child explores it by opening it in parts, removing its zinc and brass layers. This curiosity shuns when pressurized under the race of attaining more marks. Being curious about details builds the capacity of the student to understand things in various possibilities considering alternate meanings and becoming curious at the same time, about the origin of a concept or an idea. This broadens the perspective of the students and they venture beyond the factual stock of information.
Adherence to details creates an atmosphere of holistic teaching and deeper understanding in the classroom. Look at Bloom’s Taxonomy for example; it was introduced in order to promote higher forms of thinking in education, such as analyzing and evaluating concepts, processes, procedures, and principles, rather than just remembering facts. This proves how details play a very important role in the teaching learning process. When it comes to vivid descriptions of basic principles, name of Sushruta comes to mind. He is one of the earliest surgeons of the recorded history (600 B.C.). He is believed to be the first individual to describe plastic surgery. He described the principles of plastic surgery in his famous ancient treatise ‘Sushruta Samhita’. His teachings and practice has considerable surgical knowledge of relevance even today. He believed that knowledge of both surgery and medicine are essential to constitute a good doctor who otherwise, “is like a bird with only one wing”. The new students under him were expected to study for at least six years. He always emphasized that to be perfect in any field you need to be having knowledge of as many areas as possible. Great physicists like Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton were not great in physics only but in mathematics, philosophy, religion etc also.
Delhi Public School just celebrated its Annual Function 2017 and the grandness it reached this year is unmatched and par excellence. The theme was India’s fight for freedom. It spanned from the coming of the British to Nehru’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’. To encompass such a magnanimous theme for a school annual function was a tremendous challenge. But the way it was conceived and presented by the students made it another remarkable feat for the school.
There were so many times when a particular scene became a challenge for the students because they could not grasp the intensity of that moment. That is when ‘adherence to details came handy’. Once they were made to feel the seriousness of the historical event they were supposed to enact, they could easily feel it in their veins. To express the correct amount of emotion and feel the struggle, students had to realize the details of the historical event. They were made to understand the feelings of Gandhi when he says in response to the statement that the country is moving ahead, as he questions “But, in which direction?” They were told the tales from history books only to prove that these emotions cannot be confined to the pages of a history book. Introduced to these details they were beautifully able to showcase the roles of Mangal Pandey, Lok Manya Tilak, Shubhash Chandra Bose, Pandit Nehru, Kasturba Gandhi, the cruelty of british officers and even the small role of the villagers.
Coming back to the story that became the inspiration for this article I would point out that the prince who was sent to the jungle, time and again, had no formal training about how to adjust in the jungle. He was not guided rather was expected to use his instincts to deal with any situation in the wild jungle. Similarly, children should not be bound to a set pattern. They should be given opportunities to explore and experiment with experience and attempts for learning in the real sense.

“It is the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”- John Wooden

Monday, May 8, 2017

Lay the foundation and Let Kids Chisel Their Future

The important issue, which requires serious consideration, is the problem faced by children due to parents’ attitude of being ‘exceedingly’ helpful. Well, it is a fact well known, that generally parents try to provide children with all the necessities and in many cases even luxuries. This is often an attempt to fill the void, they might have experienced as kids.  They do not want their kids to feel deprived of these necessities and luxuries.
As parents, they do their best missing on the point that they are molding their kids in such a way that they are getting habitual to this abundance. They get comfortable with a scenario where they have to make no efforts to acquire anything they require. In the passion of providing their kids with everything as soon as possible, parents gradually erase the thin line that separates need from want. Everything is provided as if it’s is a necessity and is provided instantly so the kids even forget the value of patience. Which eventually brings them to a position where they stop valuing the efforts of the parents and start taking this for granted. They start expecting everything without making any efforts. There was a time when children had few toys and they shared those with their siblings. Now they have an abundance of this stuff with no inclination to share.
I remember the days when we used to finish a book and anxiously wait for the new one. There was a reason to feel happy when we received a new book. It used to fill us with a sense of accomplishment, a reward for finishing the previous one.  Now a days, a child is flooded with numerous books, even if they aren’t interested in reading one. This extravaganza of facilities available at their disposal, limits their interest and they get easily bored with everything provided to them. There is no urge left in them to make efforts to acquire and deserve something. The same is true when it comes to eating habits of the children. The parents try to provide them with plenty of things and want that the children should eat as much as possible. Do you think it is possible for the child all the time?
The parents want their children to excel in all those areas and fields where they themselves could not attain success. If the parents tried to qualify for engineering or medicine and could not do the same, they want to achieve it through their children. To make their unrequited dreams come true, they send their kids to various coaching centers and create an atmosphere of extreme comfort so that the child can be what they could not without realizing the fact that the child may not at all be interested in that field or may not have the aptitude for these subjects.
Children will value those things more, which they get with some struggle and efforts and not the ones made easily available to them. I have been making one request to the parents and teachers that let children achieve what they want with their own efforts. In this process, they might fail a number of times but that is what real learning is all about. I would like to share my experience. When I was doing my graduation, I came across two wonderful teachers (fortunately, I had wonderful teachers to learn from). They both were extraordinary in their subjects and had a lot of love and commitment for their students. However, the difference was in their approach towards making us learn the particular subject. One would always help the children in every difficulty and solve almost all the problems of the exercise because as students we were comfortable to ask him when we were not able to get the correct answer. Our total dependence on him and his constant ‘kindness’ ultimately proved bad for us. We felt that the book, which he used to teach, was very easy and expected to do very well in the examination.
The other teacher would not allow us to ask many questions but always helped us by giving some hints to solve a problem. Due to this, we were forced to attempt every question ourselves, based on the directions given by the teacher. We felt challenged, considered this book difficult, and were not confident about it. When final examinations were held, we found ourselves more comfortable in the second case, and the results came accordingly. Here I do not mean to show any disrespect to the first teacher but as he made the solutions of the problems available for us so easily, we did not get opportunity to make sincere efforts ourselves. The other teacher made sure that we make efforts and get the solutions ourselves. I am still more comfortable with those topics, which my teacher gave to me as a challenge. This became a kind of lesson for me, I used it with my students quite often, and I am very happy to share with all of you that they did exceedingly well not only in their examinations but in their career too. I am also very proud to share that a few of them, as a result, knew more about the subject and could solve even those problems in the classrooms, which at times I found difficult. That is the reason I always say that if curiosity is ignited in the students regarding a topic/subject, they would make efforts themselves and there would be nothing better than this. I was considered good teacher( so called), not necessarily because of my capabilities but because of the efforts of my students, which became my strength. My excellence was reflected through their efforts not in the fact that how well versed I was in a particular topic or my subject.
Another issue, which is very important and requires attention by the parents, is the fact that they are after the so-called play schools for their kids even before they turn two or three years of age. Earlier the children would go to the schools when they turned five or six. Child Marriage was prevalent at those times. Many social reformers fought against the system of child marriage and now almost all are of the opinion that children should first be in a position to look after themselves, be self-sufficient and then get married. Child marriage is a thing of past now except in some areas in a few states of our country. The reason for this change is the realization that a child is not mature and grownup to face the challenges thrown on to him/her by the responsibilities of marriage. Why the same logic is not applied to other situations?  Why are the children sent to play schools when they are not mature enough to handle outside world?Why are not they exposed to the situations in family where they can be taught to deal with the outsiders without their realizing the same? Why they are still deprived of the love and affection and do not get the opportunity to sit on the laps of the mother and father and other people in their family? I know this is a debatable issue. However, had there been any debate on this in our country? For the convenience of the parents, we expose our innocent kids to someone whom the kids or we do not know at all. I do not have any problems with so-called teachers of play schools; I rather salute them for trying their level best to look after the kids who are ‘deserted’ by their parents in the name of exposure to the world at an early age.
My request to such parents is that they should make themselves available to their students. Give time to their children and nurture them with their love and care. Let them know you more; let them understand your experiences before they practically deal with the world. Parents, your job or growth is important but please realize that your child is the most important of all. I hope nobody will feel offended by my views but try to debate and understand how to make our children learn without extreme pressure and too much help from outside. You as an individual are doing well even though you are not necessarily a doctor or an IITian and your children will also excel if they are allowed to do things themselves, by providing them help, only when needed and in the right amount.
All children have potential to do well and we should let them have the right support at right time. However, never let this support handicap their genuine abilities. Parents should remember that their interference, extravagant help or spoon-feeding would mar the performance of the students in their studies, day-to-day life and especially at the times of unexpected challenges.