Towards competency-based testing

Ashok Ganguly

Ashok Ganguly   | Photo Credit: — Photo: S. Gopakumar


In an interview to The Hindu-Education Plus at Jyothis Central School in Thiruvananthapuram, Ashok Ganguly, chairman, Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), spoke at length about the HOTS-based process, the need for a national core curriculum and about the latest plans of the Board to have joint certification courses with industry support.

How do you rate the question papers of the recent CBSE examinations for the 10th and 12th standards? Have there been any qualitative improvements? Mistakes have been pointed out in certain papers?

There are two aspects to this. Mistakes are one aspect. But the more important one is how we have moved out from the repetitive questions. Because we are very much focussed on “More of the Same” (MOTS), and we are tuned to such repetitive exercises, so that whenever there is talk of change, some hype is unnecessarily created. We were very clear with the introduction of the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) that the typology of the questions should change, number one, and, number two, instead of having a content-based testing, we should have a competency-based testing. Because content-based testing leads to bad pedagogy and also to rote learning.

So as regards the quality of questions, we are very much clear that 20 per cent of questions would be based on Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS). It is not as though HOTS questions were not there earlier; they were limited to the lower end of Blooms Taxonomy, were limited to knowledge, understanding and application. We would like to take this to the higher order where there is a bit of introspection, synthesis, analysis … all those things. Now this has made it clear to the students that they need not revise the entire curriculum, the entire textbook on the day before the examinations as was the case with the MOTS questions … of course, in the physics paper, there was some feedback that the HOTS questions were not limited to 20 per cent. We are looking into this, getting feedback from the experts.

Now that this (the HOTS concept) is through, the teachers and students have been put on their toes. I expect that the entire teaching-learning process in schools would change, go forward and (be) constructive.

What is the expected result of the HOTS process?

There are three things. One, your testing should not be content-based. Number two, we have to see that our students come to a level of global competitiveness; we have to see whether they can understand things or not, whether they can translate it into real life situations or not. Finally, we have to free children from rote learning. Sometimes, it even happens that if students answer things that are not there in the textbook, the teacher has a mindset which says do not evaluate this properly. Now they have been told about the HOTS process, how the students’ own thinking should come out and how that should be evaluated appropriately.

Is it possible and/or desirable for the country to have a unified national school syllabus? Can the multi-level differences between the CBSE, the ICSE (Indian Council of Secondary Education) and the State syllabi be d

one away with? What about the perception that the all-India and State entrance examinations for professional courses are in line with the CBSE syllabus? Or is it the other way round?

No, no, there is this perception that more students from the national stream get past all-India and State examinations. We have taken up this matter at the COBSE, at the Pune conclave. We asked that at least at the Plus Two level and at least for physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics, there has to be a unity of syllabus up to 90 to 95 per cent. The examples can be State-specific in the syllabus, but the conceptual part, there can be 95 per cent similarity. We have taken a resolution, we are telling the States also, make it happen … When our students at the Plus Two level are going to universities, are competing in a global situation, we need a common core curriculum at least for these subjects. I can tell you that at least in these subjects we have achieved 70 per cent similarity. We need to take this to 95 per cent. Up to class 10, we need diversity, the local situations are different. It is not just the content alone, even the delivery has to be contextualised. Just making the content uniform is not enough. The people, the process and the technology should also change.

…the level of the State boards also needs to improve.

Have the job-oriented courses offered by the CBSE taken off in a manner you hoped they would? Are schools coming forward to offer these courses?

Yes, they have. Not every student can be channelised into formal education. Vocational education is then a must. We have also realised the importance of having skill-based academic subjects. Over the past three years, we have introduced courses in biotechnology, web technology, entrepreneurship … In the interregnum, we also wanted to develop a role model for the Centre, for the State Boards, how to have a good industry collaboration. We started with a course in financial market management. We have already signed an MoU with the National Stock Exchange. For the first time in India, those passing out of the financial market management course will have a joint certification by the CBSE and the National Stock Exchange. Can you imagine how much value this will carry? They (these students) will get, if required, direct employment. Or can we go in for a further undergraduate programme with the universities. Bombay university has already announced that they are going to have a further undergraduate programme in financial management. Assam university and some other universities are looking into the matter … We are also talking to ICICI Bank for starting a banking and insurance course, we are talking to NASSCOM so that we can have an IT package, we are working for health-care courses, retailing courses, tourism courses … see, we would like to concentrate only on the services sector. Such courses have to be industry-supported.

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