Interview with Vineet Joshi, Chairman, Central Board of Secondary Education.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is bringing about major reforms in the process of assessment of students, including the introduction of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) scheme. This school-based system of evaluation seeks to cover all aspects of a student's development. In the context of the ongoing process,

Vineet Joshi, Chairman and Chief Vigilance Officer of the CBSE, seeks to explain and clarify the extent, nature and significance of the changes, and the challenges the Board has faced along the way in conceiving and introducing the new matrix, in this interview he gave

Aarti Dhar in New Delhi. Excerpts.

Could you provide broad details of the reforms the CBSE has initiated?

We've started implementing the reforms. The initial responses have been encouraging, but there's still a long way to go. It's just a first step of bold reforms in Class I to Class VIII, making the Board examinations optional in Class X and shifting from the marking system to the grading system.

This needs to be followed up with more options being given to students of Class XI and XII, to ensure that every student is able to do whatever he or she is good at and enjoys doing.

The CCE guidelines describe ‘continuous' in terms of regular assessments, frequency of unit-testing, analysis of learning gaps, applying corrective measures, retesting and giving feedback to teachers and students for their self-evaluation. ‘Comprehensive,' on the other hand, attempts to cover both the scholastic and co-scholastic aspects of a student's growth and development. Both these aspects of the evaluation process are assessed through formative and summative assessments from Class VI to Class X.

What are the options you plan to give Class XI and XII students?

Options in terms of more electives. Earlier, it was enough if you gave them a choice in science, arts and commerce. But in the changed scenario, not only are these three subjects opening up but there is vast scope in newer fields such as Media Studies, Design, Retailing and Logistics.

On the recent reforms, there has been some amount of controversy, confusion and anxiety. How do you intend to address these?

Our approach has been to be as communicative as possible, to ensure that the students understand the spirit behind the changes. In the process of this interaction we, too, have stumbled upon solutions to some of our problems. In the future also we will continue to focus on better communication so that things are clear to people. All that we're trying to tell people is that this [the CCE] is a better system of assessment than the earlier one, which was unilateral. This is multilateral.

Do the changes mean a shrinkage of the role of the CBSE and the State Boards?

I wouldn't say shrinking; it's a change of role. Until now we were setting the question papers.

Now we'll focus more on teacher-training, to empower them [teachers] to send formative assessments of students and do summative assessments in the best possible way to de-stress the child. Our role will see a change. In any case, as a regulator of quality we'll always have an important role. We've to ensure that the quality of assessment and education is maintained.

Will that also mean the introduction of career counselling in the near future?

One of the ideas of the CCE is to inform parents about the strengths and weaknesses of students. Naturally, it needs to be followed in the schools with teachers and students so that when they make a career choice they do not ignore the indicators that come through the CCE assessments.

It's a natural corollary, then, that schools will now be encouraged to tell a student that when deciding on his or her career it should be on the basis of aptitude and interest and not only on the basis of marks.

How is the response to the proposal for the aptitude test?

There is a provision for an optional aptitude test in Class X. Of the 10 lakh students in Class X, some 2.5 lakh opted for the examination that was held on January 22. The idea here is not to give a test but to start a debate inside homes and schools that one should choose a career based on concrete evidence that is available.

What has been the response to the optional Class X Board?

The response has been very good and encouraging for us.

Of the students who had the option to write the examination, about 67 per cent have opted for school assessment and the remaining for Board-based assessment. Of the 33 per cent, there were students who had to opt for the test compulsorily.

Do you think that students and teachers have sometimes felt they did not understand the new assessment system, particularly in rural areas?

We've started going to the cities which are far-off, where we expect that a teacher may not be motivated enough or well-informed. As time passes, there is more information- sharing, there is more dialogue. And more and more people do understand that this is a better system.

Is it a flexible system?

The beauty of the CCE is that it's highly flexible. In the earlier system, the Board examinations had to start on a particular day and end on a particular day; there is flexibility now. Schools can prepare their own question papers and choose dates for examinations eventually.

Right now we're giving a window initially by asking them to send their question papers to us — not for approval, but to ensure that a minimum standard of education is maintained and that there is some minimum respectable teaching happening inside the classroom and that a student's performance in class is also given adequate weightage. They can pick up our question papers, mix and match, and even prepare their own papers.

When will the final changes come?

When we win the trust of the parents in the system, and a majority of the schools are ready to take up the new responsibility. At present there's still an element of doubt among the parents, but once the first batch passes out, confidence will build up. The new system takes into account everyone's aspirations. The system has brought assessment closer to the context, and it's trying to integrate assessment with teaching.

The teacher now has a very crucial role. In the existing system, when a child passed out from school, whether he had learnt anything or not could not be known. There are students who can pass examinations very easily but learn nothing. In the opposite situation, a child may be able to put his learning in the right context but is unable to pass a short examination. Now everyone is involved — students, teachers and parents.

This change in the assessment system must have been a challenging exercise. Convincing parents, teachers and students must have been difficult.

It was. We did not have a readymade scheme to offer. We discussed it with the stakeholders, went around the country, held meetings with teachers, students, principals and academicians. This was followed by a quick SMS survey… The scheme was announced in August 2009. This was followed by teacher-training. This year we are mentoring and monitoring the process.

How useful has been your helpline in the changed situation?

There is a constant Web-based interaction going on. In the past six months we've received about 6,000 queries and this helps us to get to know of any impending problem that needs to be addressed. It's a two-way thing — on the one hand it informs us of the queries of the parents and on the other we get to know of problems.

Do you have any message for students?

Every student writing the Class X examination in a few weeks from now should be happy that he or she is part of the change that the CBSE is doing. I'm sure they will feel proud to become the first batch to have come out of the new system. As of now some of them might be feeling slightly perturbed, but when they look back eventually, they will do so with a sense of pride.

Keywords: Vineet JoshiCBSE