Bring back the examination system’! This chant is gaining voice and beginning to receive greater attention within the recent discourse on education in our country. Some states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Maharashtra and Delhi are seeking amendments in the rte Act to enable them to restore the examination system for the assessment of learner achievements. A deeper look, however, reveals that these may not necessarily be informed choices. The reasons being attributed to this demand may sound logical to many, as often only half-truths are shared.
For instance, consider the likely responses, if somebody shares the well-documented fact that the achievement scores of large numbers of Class 8 students indicate that they are performing at a level expected of Class 2, and despite this low level of achievement they continue to be promoted to the next class. Undoubtedly, a wide spread response to such an assertion is likely to be a demand that the ‘no detention’ policy be replaced with the long standing examination system, since the existing practice of ensuring that no child is held back in her/his previous class until class 8, does not seem to be working on the ground. Although the examination system may not necessarily be associated with a detention policy; the demand from the states for restoring the system does seem to be directly linked with the no-detention policy.
Committees and policies such as the Kothari Commission, 1966; the National Policy of Education (npe), 1986 and the Yashpal Committee Report, 1993; have all clearly articulated that the examination system has been found to be problematic since it increases the load and stress on young school children. Further, it tends to be textbook centric and does not capture the wide range of potentials and natural learning behaviours of different types of learners; nor does it make allowances for different learning environments. There are a number of reasons as to why it is so difficult to improve teaching practices in India, but one fundamental stumbling block has been the evaluation framework. Past experience has suggested that the rigid and deeply entrenched framework of end-of-term examinations tend to reward rote memorisation and superficial understanding rather than higher-level comprehension of concepts. It is however a deeply entrenched within a transmission mode of teaching and therefore is slow to shift. As a consequence, attempts to replace examinations with learner centred innovative and progressive pedagogical and assessment practices have proved to be challenging.
Passed in 2009, the Right to Education (rte) Act includes a promising mechanism for improving pedagogical practice which is the mandatory introduction of continuous and comprehensive evaluation (cce). It seeks to replace year-end examinations with a series of ongoing assessments that provide teachers with continuous insights into students’ needs and potentials, throughout the school year. The Act also requires that the schools maintain a complete record of every child during the years of elementary education (grades 1-8). The ‘no detention’ provision in the rte Act does not imply the abandoning of procedures that assess children’s learning. Instead, through the introduction of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (cce), it transfers the onus of learning solely from children to teachers and the education system as well.
There is a famous quote of Frank Smith: “The time bomb in every classroom is that students learn exactly what they are taught”. What children learn depends upon the resources, exposure and the varied opportunities available for learning. Children learn through a process of active engagement with their learning environment. They cannot be examined for what they have not been provided. The cce framework, which puts the accountability of children’s learning on the teachers and education system, goes beyond subject-specific learning. This holistic framework talks about the multidimensional aspects of learning which include conformity with the basic Constitutional values of democracy, equity and social justice. In addition, the CCE framework addresses the all round development of the child. It aims to build upon the child’s knowledge, potential and talent, which includes the development of physical and mental abilities to the fullest extent, thus making the child free of fear, trauma and anxiety; and helping the child to express freely and fully. Inherent within this framework is the setting up of enabling learning environments which are non threatening and motivate children to learn in meaningful and natural ways. CCE also talks about development in the child’s understanding, knowledge level, and her/his ability to apply this knowledge in purposeful ways. But, the question that comes to mind is how the mantle of CCE will encompass the massive and diverse canvas of school education within this country.
Within the current cce system, indicators have been designed to assess the achievements of each child for every aspect of curricula and extra-curricular learning. The process begins with the baseline evaluation so as to identify the learning level and learning needs for each child for each indicator. Based on this baseline assessment, gaps in learning and required grade specific learning needs are identified for each learner for the entire academic year. Accordingly learning inputs are to be provided by the teacher throughout the academic year. In a way this methodology shifts the focus to a child centred pedagogy which is sensitive to the individual learning needs of each child.
Let’s try to understand how CCE works on the ground by tracking learning within a particular subject, say Hindi as a language. While executing CCE for Hindi language, the simplest indicator would be whether the child reads and writes alphabets, simple words, complex word, sentences and paragraphs with understanding. Every child in the class is assessed informally by the class teacher on a four point rating scale and placed into matrix. All children who are put into the ‘yes’ category move to the next level of learning say from the alphabet to words, while the rest of the children continue to learn at the previous level, with the teacher providing inputs accordingly. The framework thus ensures that teachers focus more on children who have not moved to the next category, and motivates them to try learner-centred innovative methods which facilitate quick learning. In some challenging situations where teachers do not succeed in bringing the child to the next level of competencies, the academic coordinators can provide mentoring support. The main academic support structure consists of the Cluster Resource Coordinators (CRC), Block Resource Coordinators (BRC) and District Institute of Teachers’ Education (DITE) whose role is to monitor and support teaching learning processes in schools in their respective areas, and provide need-based training to teachers.