Thursday, July 17, 2008

Race.. Race – Yes Yes ---- Morning walks… No- No

Today I had a discussion with E. She works testing. She said jokingly is there a story by anyone on the angst of a researcher working on examinations. G directed her to me, saying Teena might have an answer, education expert here. I really did not have one, but then I asked “Why exams”? or rather why competition? I knew what lay ahead but being pounced at times gives you many insights when you try analysing and responding to what others say.
She began by saying we have lakhs of students and your alternative ideas sound good but it’s impractical in India.
So exams was to weed out the best , but it was not concerned with individual’s abilities but with the fact that how much you can reproduce at a given time.
How many times we forgot answers and recalled an hour later. So it’s not my knowledge but my skills to reproduce in a short time that’s valued. And for this great task I am gifted a certificate. I am labelled meritorious.
She asked me would I prefer being treated by a doctor who has flunked exam four times or by a doctor who is from a reputed institution? Something R asked me once when I was talking about Dewey and progressive education. Well in the first place does flunking mean incapable or incompetent? My mom was operated by a surgeon from London in fact all the three women who had hysterectomy on the same day had peritonitis and required a re-surgery. And believe me this doctor never flunked or so his reputation says. But if by exams and grading and categorising, we mean one person is superior to other, I find it hard to digest.
We all aspire to send our children to the best schools, and that means a school where our kids pass with flying colours, clear entrances and get the best jobs. We aren’t bothered to see them march like victims with heavy loads, early morning in starched uniform s, we are least bothered if they kneel down in front of classrooms with a hammer in outstretched arms, of course discipline helps or how will they learn to obey their lords later in life.
Scoring below 90’s is unbearable though we know everyone wont be No.1 we believe our kid has to be no matter what he does to push the other one down.
Does it mean we can’t visualise a system where our teachers can avoid exams, avoid competitions and assess students using different strategies and only bring in exams in 10th and 12th. Does writing exams require constant practice for competing and inculcating the fear factor? I understand I am talking of implementing it in government schools with 50-60 students in a class, where teachers are ill equipped with resources, competence, ideas and the students come from different backgrounds.
What I am trying to understand is why did we need exams? Definitely to select some people for a particular task, thereby we labelled the others as useless (maybe they are used less). My college in Kerala ran a kindergarten where there were 50 seats and 250 applicants on average a year. These 3 year olds had interviews and written exam, I have seen kids dozing waiting in queue for interview. Poor child if he misses an answer being drowsy and misses the seat he/she will be stamped unlucky from the beginning of his educational life. I have seen parents breaking down when their child was not admitted doubting if their child is unintelligent.
The sense of being a misfit, a loser and the association of prestige to marks is so pathetic that the word exam is a phobia to many. To ease the phobia we talk of different way of improving exams measuring their application or content rather memory. But it’s like old wine in new bottle. The need for assessing a larger mass within a limited period has left examinations the last resort, but does it have to be terrorising, high stakes and life threatening.
A documentary by an organisation named SIDH (society for integrated development of the Himalayas) beautifully quotes a villager on the occasion of paddy pounding festival “ Remind your teachers to apply right pressure on the children to remove their negativities and not to crush their souls” and that’s how paddy pounding is similar to education to her. Because if the right pressure is not applied grains break like the soul of our children.
An article on high stakes was titled “High stakes are for tomatoes”, definitely you need stakes to hold tomato plants but not to pressurise human souls.
Do we really need Aamir Khan Productions to bring out TZP kind of movies to realise the angst of comparisons, competitions and pain of tormented souls?????
Today somewhere there will be a sitting, a conference a PTA meeting on improvising examinations system how to train our children to be efficient labourers for future industries, How to camouflage exams and give it to the kids sugar coated and may their eyes glue to books and classes .And lakhs will be spend on transferring old wine to new bottle.
The motto is-
“ Duniya ka nara Jame raho”

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