Is the education system just about scoring good grades?

It is that time of the year again, when you get calls from your distant relatives, inquiring about your percentage. You are weighed based on those two-digit numbers, which the society and its institutions perceive as ‘defining you’ and determining your ‘whole future’.  

However, this year took an unpredictable turn, which impacted our annual board examinations for both 10th and 12th. The spread of COVID-19 brought the ongoing examinations across the nation to an indefinite halt. As the lockdown declared on March 25th further continued, due to the rise in corona cases across the nation. So it was decided by the concerned board members that the remaining papers would be evaluated based on average marks scored in the previous internal examination and the total aggregate would be calculated accordingly. 

Given such an ‘unfair’ evaluation process due to unavoidable circumstances, few students benefitted from it and few did lose out, but overall the results showed a sharp improvement. Therefore, the CBSE made a declaration of not publishing any merit list this year. However, as the saying goes, ‘old celebrated habits die hard’. Within minutes, the name of toppers, across states and districts were updated in social media platforms. 

Divyanshi a 12th CBSE student from Arts stream in Lucknow, secured a 100 per cent. Girls have also achieved a 5.96 per cent higher pass percentage than boys. On one hand, it is commendable seeing girls leading, despite all the social and economic difficulties that they undergo.

However, scoring cent per cent in subjects such as English, History and Geography, also raises serious concerns on the current evaluation system. The evaluation system has been raising serious doubts each passing year, with more students securing 95 per cent and above as their aggregate. 

Taking the case of CBSE this year, according to the Hindustan Times dated 14th July 2020, in the 10th exams, the percentage of students with 90 and above was 9.84 per cent, which is lesser compared to the 12.78 per cent acquired in 2019. For 12th exams, the number of students scoring 95 and above has increased by 118.6 per cent and those with 90 and above by 67.48 per cent. Sikkim also saw a spike in the number of pass percentage, in both 10th and 12th examinations with fewer students having to repeat the exam. 

Given such a scenario, what seems bothersome is whether the same high score which brought them a feeling of momentary victory amidst a societal craze for aggregate percentage, as proof of one’s worthiness, would be detrimental in future. 

There is no doubt about the scale of intelligence the present generation bears, escalated further through easy access to the internet, which further enhances creative learning. However, minimising one’s intelligence to mere grading, only further motivate students towards scoring, rather than genuine learning and unlearning. This, in turn, encourages rote learning which simply kills the beauty, quest and thirst for acquiring knowledge, critical thinking, exploring and analysing, which can prove disastrous in the long run. It stagnates the growth of newer knowledge and creativity from being reproduced and passed over. 

Such a high percentage is also bound to increase competition for admissions to prestigious schools, colleges and institutes. Besides, the rise of COVID-19, long phases of lockdown and such uncertainties are bound to make the students fraught with anxiety and anxiousness. Still, on a positive note, the lockdown can also give them ample time to explore and analyse on various opportunities ahead. 

It was a good initiative by the Education Department of Sikkim for conducting a webinar on career counselling for class IX students on the 27th of July 2020, which included all the departmental heads from each district. Such webinars on career counselling should be held constantly, involving experts on various disciplines and fields.

To further wipe out digital divide, such career counselling can also be broadcast through local TV channels or issuing of videos, pamphlets or books to the concerned school teachers. As the students are now most in need of constant hope, guidance and motivation. 

The ingrained culture not unique to Sikkim, of glorifying science as a subject, followed by commerce and the arts, has been practised and passed over. Science and commerce gained immense significance with a neo-liberal economy designed to meet free market demands, which has become starker ever since the BJP came to power in the Centre in 2014. However, the hierarchical ranking of subjects poses grave pressure and confusion to students. It is high time to acknowledge the significance of each field and every subject, as they all have their importance, purpose and functions. 

We live in an era which needs and should celebrate the beauty of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity.

For instance, while we do need doctors and scientists to find a vaccine solution to COVID-19, we simultaneously need social scientists and public health experts to look at the social effects and impacts of COVID-19, the measures and schemes to be adopted by the Government to reduce or avoid such hazards.

Yet, the sad plight still stagnates to worshipping science as the subject to be versed in. This is evident from the number of engineers and nurses we have in Sikkim today. Of course, we do need good engineers and frontline workers, the need for which is felt the most now. What our society equally needs are good teachers, professors, administrators, artists, writers, social workers, academicians, think tanks and lawyers. 

Parents and teachers must closely monitor a student, their strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. As most often a child starts cultivating hobbies and interests as and when they are exposed to new opportunities and activities. Most often teachers only cater to providing and representing themselves through the top five students or more so the ‘first benchers’. They often give them undivided attention, which boosts the students’ confidence and morale.

It simultaneously lowers the confidence and motivation of the remaining other students and mostly that of the ‘backbenchers’. They cultivate a belief of worthlessness. Thus, growing up with such a belief of insecurity and self-doubt does not reproduce successful individuals for our society. Therefore, it is equally important to give each student undivided attention, motivation and an opportunity to represent themselves. Maybe more so for the ones who are already paving their paths towards insecurities and self-doubts. As to put it in words of A.P.J Kalam “The best brains of the nation may be found on the last benches of the classroom.” 

It is wrong and unfair on the part of the teachers to assess students as ‘weak’ based on their marks, thereby overlooking and ignoring their other areas of interests. Every child is born special and has their unique selves. The students need to be catered to based on their introverted and extroverted nature, in a classroom setting. Therefore, teachers and their family members have to recognize it and prepare the child further through words of encouragement, love, support and guidance. As certainly, few words of motivation can take a person quite far. 

Confidence building, which the education system sees as a part of co-curricular activities has proved to be far-fetched, with only a handful benefitting from it. As usual, only those ‘capable of representing’ are selected for participation in debates, elocution, quiz or seminars. Students who seem ‘invisible’ not just to themselves but also to the teachers are never taught or nurtured to believe that ‘it always seems impossible until done’.

Consequently, the relevance of confidence-building as a part of the school curriculum, till the 8th standard in all schools of our state, like the ‘happiness class’ by the Delhi Government, can prove to be a way ahead. This confidence building class for 45 minutes can comprise of activities towards polishing communicative skills, debating skills, current affairs, discussions, critical evaluation, the exercise of body and mind and self-grooming which also forms a pivotal part of confidence-boosting. T

he class can further encourage students towards polishing their hobbies, without it being considered as a distraction from their academic curriculum. This 45 minutes class can be where a child can express their most honest selves, and work towards a confident version of themselves, amidst the academic pressure. 

As a successful society can only be achieved when filled with happy and confident young individuals, having creative ideas for the welfare and upliftment of their society. 

An unjust system of evaluation and the biased approach of a few teachers towards their ‘good’ students may reproduce insecure and unsuccessful individuals soon. But I see more hope in Sikkim. 

The author is Rinzing Ongmu Sherpa, a Doctoral Candidate in Centre for Study of Social Systems (CSSS) at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She can be reached at [email protected] 

Disclaimer: Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer and not of the Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted in his/her email id.

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