Killing them softly with MCQs — How the Board assessments in India are failing children
“I enjoy learning.” “I am curious about learning new things.” “As I am growing, I find I am interested in learning more about some things than others.” My teen daughter said this with quiet conviction some months ago. Nothing would gladden the heart of a parent and teacher more than to hear this. And yet the current mode of teaching and learning building up to the dreaded board examinations seem to be designed to kill curiosity and snuff out the joy of learning.
The National Education Policy 2020 calls for a ‘shift from an assessment system that is summative and primarily tests rote memorization skills to one that is more regular and formative, is more competency-based, promotes learning development for our students, and tests higher-order skills, such as analysis, critical thinking and conceptual clarity.’ (https://www.education.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/NEP_Final_English_0.pdf)
This intent was welcomed with enthusiasm by schools, teachers and students alike, frustrated by the factory system of education where children are seemingly churned out year on year. For decades the board exams have been the albatross around the neck for young adolescents. Already dealing with transitions and changes in their mental and physical selves, the added burden of facing the board exams, and the hype around how significant they are in the context of opportunities that open out for the child in the future, create a potent mix impacting the child’s mind, often affecting confidence, and feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.
Around the time that NEP was to roll out, COVID placed a spanner in the works. The scheduled assessments of 2020 were abruptly curtailed, and the boards had to devise ingenuous and seemingly fair ways to award scores to children. After much dithering the boards decided to scrap the formal assessments of 2021, and used past years scores and internal marks obtained by the students. It left many students unsatisfied, and schools unprepared with internal scores since classes had been disrupted since March 2020.
As the academic session progressed, many schools shifted to online platforms, many could not. Nearly 80% of students remained out of the ambit of learning, a large number in rural areas.
The shift to online classes was sudden, and both teachers and students adapted with whatever means and limitations they had. The focus through this process was on minimizing learning losses for children. Online learning was reduced to transaction of curriculum. All other aspects of school life, towards developing the emotional and social qualities of the children were ignored.
Students and teachers were reduced to rectangular boxes on the screen. Challenges of device availability, network connectivity, power supply, all posed challenges. Recognising the limitations of such learning, both CBSE and ICSE marginally reduced syllabus, without any clear explanations on why certain topics were dropped and what their implications would be.
In mid-2021, seemingly in an effort to minimise the uncertainties around assessments, CBSE and soon after ICSE announced that the assessment for 2022 would be done in two parts. The first part of 40 marks would cover 50% of the syllabus in November 2021, and the remainder of the syllabus would be assessed in March 2022.
IQ over EQ : the MCQ way!
For the first part of the board assessment in Dec 2021, the question paper will have multiple choice questions. There can only be one right answer, there is no interest in knowing why the child thinks that is the right answer and how she/ he arrived at it.
Hence, for a question in mathematics, the student must go through the process of understanding the problem and doing the necessary calculations, and then coming up with an answer. All that the board will see is the answer and determine whether its right or wrong.
The process ceases to matter. In history and geography, and biology and chemistry, it all boils down to what has been memorized and stored in memory. The less said about MCQs in languages the better.
In its effort to cater to the lowest common minimum, and safeguard uncertainties of the conduct of mass examinations, the boards have lost sight of all that has been laid out in the NEP 2020.
The children, already suffering the worst years of their lives thus far, are learning and growing in isolation, attending proxy schools through rectangular boxes on the screen. It is perplexing that some of the best brains in education were unable to come up with something more imaginative and reasonable in terms of assessments.
Devoid of meaningful education and learning especially for the past two years, children are scrambling to cram in what they can to prepare for these assessments. Their spirits are being killed, slowly but surely.