Academics think it is time the State considered introducing grading system

This year's list of toppers in the State Board class X examination was long. In fact, the number of names in it is more than double that of last year's. A total of 40 students shared the first three ranks in the S.S.L.C. stream and 33 students in the Matriculation stream. In 2010, 15 students shared the first three ranks in S.S.L.C. stream and three in Matriculation stream.

Is this due to a liberal evaluation system or has the quality of education improved? Academics think it is time the State considered introducing grading system. Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have done away with the ranking system. CBSE has introduced grades, with no mention of ‘pass' and ‘fail'.

Unhealthy competition

The ‘topper tally' has become a USP for schools and competition is intense not only among students, but also among schools and districts. “How many ranks in your school?” is a commonly heard question among high and higher secondary school teachers. District Educational Officers consider the number of rank holders and the pass percentage in their respective districts as an indicator of success at work, say officials of the School Education Department. “Everyone thinks only students are under pressure. Teachers like us are warned of consequences if we do not produce an ‘all pass' or ranks. I know that I am only teaching my children strategies to memorise and reproduce answers based on the question bank, but I have no choice,” says a teacher of a Chennai School on condition of anonymity.

All the fuss is only about the top rankers. “Have you ever seen a school take interest in the students who have not cleared a paper? Everybody wants a rank,” said a senior official of the Directorate of Government Examinations.

But, the good performance of the students can be attributed to other factors too. Syllabus is more specific and the aspects of knowledge and skills to be achieved are clearly mentioned. Some private schools are selective in taking students.

“Also, question paper is set in a ‘scientific manner', where the objectives and duration are specific and is thus easy for a student who prepares well,” says S. Swaminatha Pillai, former director, School of Distance Education, Bharathiar University.

Kerala S.S.L.C. examinations do see many students getting high scores. “But, we screen out during the second and third evaluation. We used to have 50 people in the list of 1 to 15 ranks, but since the 2005 public examination we have introduced the grading system,” says Mohammed Hanish, Director of Public Instruction, Kerala.

Defects in the system

The Yashpal Committee Report on ‘Learning without Burden' in 1993 pointed to a well understood defect in the examination system.

It said examinations focussed on “children's ability to reproduce information”, and talks about their inability to apply concepts and information on unfamiliar, new problems or simply to think. Both the teachers and the parents constantly reinforce the fear of examination and the need to prepare for it by memorising a whole lot of information from the textbook and guide books, according to the report.

Much of the Central Board of Secondary Education's rationale for the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) draws on the concerns raised in the report, regarding where the school education system was headed in India. Hyderabad-based educationist Chukka Ramaiah says it is better to follow the traditional ranking system or follow a grade system where every question is graded. Otherwise, it would simply mean converting marks into grades as has been the case in Andhra Pradesh.

“A+ in English is different from A+ in Maths. We can find the calibre of student in every subject based on the style, content, etc.,” he says, explaining why following the traditional method of giving marks to every question and converting the final tally into grades is not helpful.

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