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  • Priyank Sharma

Complexity of the Indian Education System

This will be worth reading for anyone who wants to get a deeper understanding of the complexity of the Indian education system (the story is an excerpt from a conversation I had with Prof. Krishna Kumar, former director of NCERT):

In 2016, a girl sued CBSE (National Board of India for conducting examinations in high school).

This girl was a brilliant student of grade 12th. She always got 90+% in all her subjects. However, in her 12th grade board result, she got 90+ in all subjects except political science. Intriguingly, political science was her favorite subject and she just couldn't digest the fact that she got 70 out of 100 in her beloved subject. She asked for a re-evaluation (where apparently they only recalculate marks) but there was no change in her marks.

The girl came from an affluent family and they had a well connected lawyer. This privilege helped her to get on to fight CBSE. So, the girl's lawyer sued CBSE stating her academic records. In any ordinary case, the judge would have dismissed the case as no change was made after re-evaluation; however, this girl came from a family with position and power, and there was pressure on the judge. The judge asked CBSE to produce a photocopy of her answer sheet so that the girl would know her errors.

This is where it gets interesting. The girl was given a copy of her answers. This copy actually floated to many educationists including Prof. Krishna Kumar. To everybody's amusement, this girl had written an outstanding paper. She was just extraordinary in her answers. The problem was her answers (wordings) didn't match with the "marking scheme" of CBSE.

Her lawyer made a presentation where he put three columns. First column had the content from the NCERT textbook, the second column had the answers from the marking scheme, and the third column had answers from the girl's answer sheet. It was evident that this girl had gone beyond the textbook in her answers, and her style of writing was different from the marking scheme, and therefore, she was marked badly by the examiner.

It was apparent by this time that the answer sheet was not evaluated appropriately. The judge appealed CBSE to reexamine her paper. But, CBSE couldn't really ignore the fact that the answer sheet of every political science student in the country was checked using the same marking scheme with the same approach. A change could have adverse effects. Reluctantly CBSE did examine the paper again, but her marks were only improved from 70 to 72.

The story doesn't end here; we have more questions to answer:

Why is CBSE's marking scheme so rigid?

What stops CBSE from innovating both in terms of questions in the exams and evaluation?

What role does NCERT (the body which builds the curriculum) plays in this?

Prof. Krishna Kumar told me CBSE gives a meager 15-20 Rs. for every answer sheet corrected by a teacher in the board exams (this was in 2017). A teacher checks around 100 answer sheets per day (takes home about 2000 Rs. per day). Think, if a teacher corrects 100 answer sheets per day, is it practically possible to read every answer of every answer sheet?

The most interesting part is that CBSE is a self financed body - doesn't get a single penny from the govt. So, CBSE can't afford to give higher wage per answer sheet.

Further, CBSE is the board of our govt. school system, but practically it only conducts exams. Curriculum is designed by NCERT. And, there's absolutely no talk between these two bodies. So, to our utter dismay and horror, two bodies (one builds or makes changes to the curriculum, and the other conducts exam for this curriculum) are independent and have absolutely no internal communication. Think on this for a second !

While Krishna Kumar (being the director of NCERT) did make a lot of changes in the curriculum, but couldn't really make a big dent in the pedagogy because CBSE conducted exams which required rote-learning.

CBSE couldn't make application based question paper, because to correct such a paper required time and effort, in that case it will have to pay more to the teachers who check these papers, which in turn, will affect its finances (it's a self-funded body, remember?).

Krishna Kumar himself once had a meeting with CBSE chairman, and tried to solve for these challenges, but of course nothing could be done.

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