Education

The big question

Kickstart a change by helping students think out-of-the-box

The education system in Tamil Nadu has needed a revamp for over 10 years now. Thanks to the two fast track committees, one on update of curriculum and the other a high level committee, the process has kick-started. The revision in curriculum and the consequent upgrade of the textbooks must be done at regular intervals, say every three years, meeting the changing requirements at the local and global levels. Accordingly, the teachers’ academic capabilities and teaching skills must also be regularly assessed and spruced up with workshops, continuing education programmes and the like. However, these measures are necessary, but not sufficient for raising the attainment level of the student.

The most important thing that most of us have been ignoring and the worst culprit of our school educational system is the pattern of questioning in the public examinations. A popular misconceived aim of education amongst our children, parents and even teachers and educational administrators is ‘to pass out’ — with as many marks as possible in the examination. As the optimality principle would have it, ‘reap the maximum benefit with the available resources or least efforts’, all of them are orienting all their activities, namely teaching, training, learning, only towards answering the question papers in the public examinations in Class X and Class XII of the state board in the best way to earn marks. Apparently, there is nothing wrong in this. But, their goalpost, namely, the question paper, consists only of questions, except those of objective type, repeated verbatim from the few questions given at the ends of the lessons in the prescribed textbooks. Realisation is often absent that the questions in the book are only ‘sample’ questions and can never be exhaustive. Many ‘smart’ teachers/students even avoid the lessons totally and ‘learn’ (memorise) only the answers to the questions at the end of the lessons! Many students get centum in the examinations, without having a basic knowledge in the subject. As long as this state of affairs continues, no improvement in our educational system will be possible in spite of the best teachers, best students and best syllabi.

Remedial measures

Look for surprises: The textbook shall contain in its introductory chapter (‘Foreword’) an explicit information to the students and teachers that the questions given at the ends of the lessons/chapters are only illustrative and not exhaustive. The teachers shall therefore be advised to create additional questions on the material in the lesson and use them during teaching, class tests and examinations. Students must be trained to look for and welcome ‘surprise’ questions in examinations. Examinations should not scare them. They can be advised to “make examination a hobby, so that success becomes a habit.”

Train to think: Some percentage of questions given at the ends of lessons in the textbook need not have explicit answers in the lesson. Their answers should come out as small logical extension of facts stated in the text. This will inculcate in the students the habit of thinking beyond the text and instilling self-confidence.

Make it interesting: At appropriate places in the lessons, relevant historical developments, interesting anecdotes related to personalities involved, their famous quotes can be given to make the subject more interesting, enjoyable and involving.

Scoring system: Very high percentage of passes or large number of centum scores, commensurate with previous results, are not necessarily the marks of a good educational system. If the ‘good’ and the ‘not so good’ are equally labelled, frustration may result, rather than satisfaction. One of the ways to get over this is to make the choices in the long-answer questions such that no student who has omitted any portion of the lessons should be able to score centum. Award of negative marks for wrong answers for the objective questions can also be introduced. The negative mark should be one-third of the mark for the correct answer when the number of answers given for each question is four. (It should be 1/(n-1)th of the mark of a correct answer, when n is the number of alternative answers given.

Questioning is an art. It may be worth to allude to the saying, “Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers,” by Joseph Ahlbers, an educator cum artist.

The writer was formerly heading Entrance Examination and Admission Division, Anna University, Chennai.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 3:35:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/the-big-question/article19895216.ece

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