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A necessary evil: School examination system in India

Saturday, 21 February 2009 - 8:25pm IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA
The sound of the burst of a loud cracker cuts into the silence of a bright sunny morning, this sound is followed by a chorus of "WHAAOOO" by hundreds of kids.

The sound of the burst of a loud cracker cuts into the silence of a bright sunny morning, this sound is followed by a chorus of "WHAAOOO" by hundreds of kids. This scene is repeated every year on the last day of school, signaling the end of exams. Naturally, children are officially banned from carrying crackers to school. Despite frisking, they, somehow, manage to save that lone cracker for celebrating the end of exams.

One will rarely find a child who enjoys giving exams; the bright ones are under the stress of performing well every time, the average and weak ones are much stressed out to get through, and then there are the creatively indulging kinds, who put all their efforts in collecting cheating material or finding ways to outsmart the invigilators.

How useful are examinations anyway? That we need to assess kids is unquestionable. That students should be able to express and explain what they have learnt is also indisputable. But does the current assessment system provide the necessary tools for learning, is the point in question.

Often during exams children go through so much stress that many show symptoms of nausea, dizziness, loss of appetite and sleeplessness. Matters get lot worse during the board exams and there have been several cases where children have reportedly ended their lives, failing to cope with the pressure to do well. Much of this, however, happens at the at school level. The assessment patterns at higher institutions follow an easy pace, which is less traumatic.

Then why do we, in India, follow such a rigid Methodism for younger kids? Aren't the school years meant for creative learning? The Board results of Std X and Std XI, at best, help kids gain entry into a professional degree programme. But, in the long run, it is their professional grades that will matter. This very fact is enough to do away with the intense pressure children are put under due to the current methodology of school exams.

The international assessment system, which is a good working model, follows an individual pace of testing. Assessment may be in the form of write-ups, models, paper presentations and group presentations. A research conducted in University of Standford shows that marks and grades do not induce learning. Children are more interested in marks rather than the process of learning.

While few schools and a small segment of parents may be comfortable with the international pattern of assessment, a larger section of parents in India is seemingly more comfortable in the conventional system of exams.

The extent of phobia that exams have assumed is definitely a deterrent to the health of kids. Children will do good to beat the stress by eating right, sleeping eight hours a day, and playing some sport every day. Deep breathing with light meditation will help them calm their mind. The age old habit of five almonds soaked, peeled and taken on an empty stomach every morning helps memory retention and agility.

In adulthood, living with stress is an inescapable fact of life. For that, the existing exam system may seem as a method of preparing students for the future. There will be, however, plenty of opportunities ahead for experiencing the demanding, nerve-racking aspect of life. Maybe for now, we should let children just be children.

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