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Marks Bonanza…What Next?

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 By Dr S Ganguli

Flipping through the recently declared results of classes X and XII of various boards, and seeing students achieve the unachievable, I was reminded of my own school days when examination results depicted the real academic worth of students.

I recollect very lucidly that UP Board used to be one of the toughest to get through. At times, the pass percentage would not cross even 30 % but still there was an excitement in the air… students and parents used to wait for the popular daily, National Herald, to see what was in store for them. Suicides, due to poor performance were unheard of, those not managing to clear the exam would take the test again with doubled effort and crack it the subsequent year, needless to mention that most of these students did well in their lives.

That was the time when 60% marks were considered first division and the entire family and neighbourhood used to celebrate. There was something called high second division and rarest of the rare was distinction (75%). Students getting first division would step into the best of the Medical and Engineering colleges.

Today, we read of children obtaining 100% marks in the Board Examinations. This is the time to question the insanity of such outrageous marks. We need to consider how it has become possible for more than a lakh of students to obtain more than 95% marks in various subjects including Languages, History, Economics, Political Science, etc. Howsoever brilliant a child may be, no one can debate over the fact that hundred percent perfection in all respects is almost impossible. Seeing this out of the World percentage, even illustrious personalities like Shakespeare or Einstein will have the shock of a lifetime.

One would definitely aspire to meet those evaluators who give marks such as these and discover the depth of their academic calibre. Who are these who see such perfection in children? Who are the ones who crowned thousands of students with 100% marks in English and Hindi?

The high marks awarded by boards ought to be a cause of celebration but instead they have led to disquiet regarding whether the rising tide of better marks reflects genuinely increasing learning levels. There is a sense of unease that a substantial part of these marks is phoney and there is something rotten in the state-of-affairs.

I have been a paper setter and Chief Examiner for many years. I can’t think of any student scoring 95%, forget about 100%. In fact, all examinations are standardised, which eventually lowers the quality of our education pattern. Marks bonanza is the product of a ‘marks inflation competition’ among exam boards across the country. The innocuous practice of moderation has been monstrously magnified and used unscrupulously. This undermines the credibility of the assessment pattern and breeds cynicism about the education system.

There is no shade of doubt that these super-geniuses created by our assessors and boards may collapse under the reality check of life ahead and may fail to comprehend how they have not been able to repeat the feat.

Marooned on deserted islands of education are thousands of students who score the in eighties and seventies and, sadly enough, they are labelled second-tier performers and are left out of the reckoning to get into reputed colleges. As for those in the sixties, they might as well have failed the examination…the kind of ostracism they face is actual social distancing.

We have to seriously re-think our education system…despite the percentage of marks sky rocketing year by year, the unemployment, depression and mental illnesses are increasing at much higher proportion and the health status of the population is going down.

High marks may sometimes be reflective of poor understanding. Students just learn how to crack the code of examination, not necessarily that they have grasped the concept. For example, in literature they need to develop deep understanding of prose, poetry, drama, criticism, etc., but such layered understanding, perhaps, does not exist in the marking scheme of the Boards. Model answers available on the websites of Boards clearly indicate that critical thinking, creativity and out of the box thinking is discouraged.

Inflated marks may keep everyone happy; students, parents, teachers and management, but it is dangerous in the long run as it promotes absurd expectations…the bar is raised to such inconceivable heights that superlative has become a norm.

THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION…What next ? More than 100?

(Dr S Ganguli is Chief Education Officer, Aditya Birla Group Schools, Mumbai.)