I met Prof. Krishna Kumar in 2018 and discussed the status of education in the country. For those who don’t know, Prof. Krishna Kumar, former director of NCERT, is the name behind many path-breaking policies in the education space of India. So much so, that my director of guidance and counselling in NCERT once told me: “If Krishna Kumar couldn’t bring a substantial change in the education system, I don’t think anyone else can”.
In a 2-hour long discussion, Prof. Kumar and I discussed almost every facet of education- from curriculum design to infra to pedagogy to education policies etc. He shared many examples from his real-life experience with the system in place.
There’s one specific example I want to share here:
In 2017, a girl sued CBSE. Why you ask?
This girl was a brilliant student of grade 12th. She always got 90+ in all her subjects. However, in her 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 70/100 in her beloved subject. She put her paper for reevaluation (where they only check the total) but there was no change in her marks.
Ostensibly, the girl came from an affluent family and her father/uncle was a lawyer. This privilege helped her to get on to fight with CBSE.
So, the girl’s lawyer sued CBSE stating her academic record. In any ordinary case, the judge would have dismissed the case as no change was made after reevaluation; 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 got interesting. The girl was given a copy of her answer-sheet. This copy actually floated to many educationists including Prof. Krishna Kumar. To everybody’s utter amazement, 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. The 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 so evident, that this girl had covered all points in her answers, it was just that 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 obviate the fact that the answer sheet of every political science student in the country was checked using the same marking scheme. A change could have adverse effects. Reluctantly CBSE did examine the paper again, but her marks were improved from 70 to 72 only.
Ours is an education system that revolves so much around exams, where good marks define the learning pedagogy. The proliferation of tuitions and coaching centers is further proof of this exam-oriented education. In such a system, there’s a pathetic unreliable way of giving marks.
Now, let’s understand why the marking scheme is such. CBSE gives a meager 15–20 Rs. for every answer sheet corrected by a teacher. A teacher corrects around 100 answer sheets per day (takes home around 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.
It is important to make note that CBSE is a self-funded body — doesn’t get a single penny from the government. So, CBSE can’t afford to pay higher wage per answer sheet.
Further, CBSE is the board of our govt. school system, but practically it only conducts exams. The curriculum is designed by NCERT. And, there’s absolutely no talk between these two bodies. So, to our utter horror, two bodies (one builds or make changes to the curriculum, and other conducts exam for this curriculum) are independent and have absolutely no internal communication. Think about this for a sec !
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 that required rote-learning. CBSE couldn’t make an 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 to give more wages to teachers and set better questions in exams, but nothing happened.
And, of course, there’s a third body NCTE, the one which takes care of the teacher training. Yeah, you would have guessed that these three (CBSE, NCERT, NCTE) bodies have minimal coordinated efforts.
This is how, most valuable aspect of our country, the education system, functions.
In such a system,
what policy will prove fruitful?
what ideas can be implemented effectively?
what kind of leaders/educationists can bring a change?
For a change, not just the system, every stakeholder has to move together, and here, our three main govt. bodies are functioning separately.
Can we really think of the possibility of a change? We purportedly can, though not as straight and simple as it may appear.