At a matriculation school in Vepery, only five out of 45 students in class IX have passed in all subjects in the half-yearly exams. Next year, all the 45 students, perhaps with one or two exceptions, will be appearing for their class X Board examinations.

Contrast this to the third semester results of Anna University of Technology, Chennai, in which only 25 per cent of the students of engineering in 168 colleges have passed in all subjects. In three years, most of them will graduate as engineers.

Considering that many homes and schools make it a very stressful period for students, a close look at the examination system may point to other aspects worth attention. While the results seem to be a cause for concern, the larger issues are the prevalent examination system that one really has to worry about is that it tests memory rather than understanding, say academics.

“In many schools, children learn even mathematics by rote. In engineering colleges, students are encouraged to score marks but not to find solutions to the problem which is the job of an engineer,” says V. Rhymend Uthariaraj, director, Ramanujan Computing Centre, Anna University.

“There is a problem with rote learning. Once you forget a line, you forget everything and the question can't be answered,” says A. Dhanalakshmi, a physics teacher who takes tuitions. It might take longer to explain a concept to all students, but once they understand learning becomes very easy from that point, teachers like her note.

At the school level, the question paper pattern till school finals are pretty much the same. “In some schools, the same questions are repeated in quarterly, mid-term, half-yearly and annual exams. Such a practice encourages my daughters only to learn few questions from the guide and not even read through the lesson in the book,” says Arun, a parent.

A study undertaken by the AUTC earlier had revealed the failure of the schools in making students understand math concepts. While 80 per cent of the engineering students had high scores in mathematics in school finals, only 20 per cent could clear the test conducted by the university for the first year engineering students. The students, who are used to solving specific types of questions, were found wanting to solve the concept-oriented questions in engineering education.

Teachers have different pressures and unless the whole system of examination and evaluation changes, there is little hope, according to a senior secondary level teacher of a private school. “I would love to spend time on the concepts. But a teacher does not have that luxury. The management talks in terms of ranks and pass percentage, without realising the importance of students understanding concepts,” she said.

“You may not know how answer sheets are corrected. There is an answer key and the teacher correcting the paper spends barely a few minutes on each paper. A student who deviates from the expected answer has a slim chance of obtaining marks for it, even if it is right,” said another teacher.

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