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Tyranny of Board Exams Must be Broken

Tyranny of Board Exams Must be Broken

With the decision of cancelling the X board examination by CBSE for this year and postponing the XII board exam, the students of these classes along with their parents have got some relief. Although, it was almost invetable to drop the possibility of the nation wide examination which was due to start from May 4.

Asking lakhs of students to reach the examination centres spread across the country over several days in the midst of the second wave would have risked the health of not only the children but also the teachers and their families. Many state boards have also either cancelled or postponed their examinations after this decision. While at one point the decision has brought relief to some students, lakhs of XII students are still in uncertainty as what is coming up next.

It also raises a formidable challenge for schools and teachers to redefine their assessment for a gateway exam that leads to higher education. In a system so deeply stratified and where the digital divide has deepened inequalities and vulnerabilities during an epidemic year — with many parents bearing its economic brunt as well — the task is more fraught.

As they work on this, schools also got to reach out and hand-hold students through this era of hysteria . What will surely assistance is if vaccines are promptly made available to high school teachers and faculty staff no matter their age. Given that the Covid curve is unpredictable, a secure classroom may be a vital breakthrough in protecting and empowering children both in pedagogy and well-being.

That said, this is also the kind of crisis that the education establishment must not waste. For an extended while now, it’s been amply clear: The system of board exams is broken and in need of urgent reform. To subject lakhs of scholars to the immense pressure of a “make-or-break” test — the sole metric which will matter in 15 years of schooling — is an outdated choice with diminishing returns. This form of standardised assessment measures a questionable idea of ability, has normalised a regime of unreasonably inflated marks, and pushed thousands of scholars into anxiety and failure. The CBSE has done well to cancel X board test but the question remains: Can XII boards, the results of which determine students’ future in higher education, be reimagined?


The National Education Policy, 2020, which has a host of valuable suggestions on evaluation reforms, certainly thinks so. Instead of one test (to be taken by all board students at an equivalent time), it proposes an array of round-the-year assessments and credits, from classwork and internal tests to a common entrance examination. Some of this, of course, implies trusting teachers and schools with greater autonomy to assess students — and attest that they have learnt enough to earn a basic school-leaving certificate. Higher educational institutions, instead of filtering applications mechanically, must also respond to this crisis by coming up with more imaginative ways of engaging with college applications, rather than reduce a student to her marksheet. The education system has skilled the pandemic’s challenge by adopting the disruption from classroom to screen. To further secure it, it must break the tyranny of the board examination.

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