Are board exams necessary?

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Against the backdrop of the cancellation of class 10 and 12 board exams owing to the pandemic, NT KURIOCITY delves into the question of whether board exams are really necessary or if it is time to revamp the education system entirely

RAMANDEEP KAUR | NT KURIOCITY

Anxiety, sweaty palms, and a heightened blood pressure – which student hasn’t felt the approaching dread while entering the examination room? The pressure only increases at the thought of board exams, which is often looked at as an all-important decider for a student’s future.

The COVID-19 pandemic however necessitated a rethink on holding of these exams amidst the high number of cases. And after much debate, the Goa Government finally cancelled both the examinations, stating that the grading would be done based on internal assessment right through the year.  

Boon or bane?

Like many others, class 10 student Sheniah Menezes is happy with this decision. “To me boards have always been something I’ve dreaded and I’m glad they have been cancelled,” she says, adding that more than the fear of answering boards, students worry more about attaining a high percentage so as to be seen in a favourable light in society.

Further, Menezes believes it’s high time that the education system became much more practical. “Extra-curricular activities should be taken seriously being well balanced with common subjects like history, science and math,” she opines.

There is a need for a more holistic approach to education, agrees Bineeta George, parent of a class 10 student. “A two to three-hour exam cannot define a student. I feel marks don’t make a man. In today’s world a child has to be street smart to survive the onslaught of challenges that come their way,” she says.

Mother of a class 10 student, Joana Monteiro however isn’t as happy about the cancellation as she believes that board exams help students to gauge their capabilities and is an experience to face life ahead.

For class 12 students who will now have to prepare for entrance examinations to pursue further education, the cancellation comes with a whole new set of challenges.

Reizenio Rodrigues, a class 12 science student for instance is a little worried about what the future will entail for him. Class 12 board exams, he says, are necessary, especially for the science stream as they have to qualify for entrance exams based on their class 12 board results.

Noronha e Rodrigues, a parent of a class 12 student, echoes similar sentiments stating that the board exams are a good preparation for the entrance exams.

A class 12 teacher also believes that some traditions should be maintained. “As board exams need year-long academic preparation, students remain busy in studies by learning the lessons in class, doing homework, project assignments, reference work from various sources. This keeps their brain active, they learn to take decisions, and understand certain things for doing specific work,” she says. And while given the pandemic situation, the cancellation of exams was necessary, she believes that going forward in the years to come, board exams should be continued. “Even though we can evaluate students through the virtual medium, many students still do not get proper facilities and their future should not be hampered,” she says.

And the internal assessment solution does not sit well with everyone.

“Is it fair to suddenly assess students on year-long progress, when they were told all along, that the system they are in requires top performance at a single, major, highly pressured year-end examination?” asks consultant for Academic & Professional Communication, Margao, Ranjit Rodrigues.

Time to break the mould

He does however agree that the current pandemic crisis has afforded us a great opportunity to ask: why do we still use the ‘board exam’ system to assess and certify student competencies, knowing that these examinations are symptomatic of an outmoded educational system?

India, he says, is blessed with the world’s largest adolescent population, and this bright young demographic, if offered modern educational training, will benefit not just our nation socially and economically, but the world itself. “Yet an outdated and ineffective education system, with its obsession with future-determining board exams, continues to repress and strait-jacket millions of ingenuous and capable young minds across our nation,” he says.

It’s late but never too late, says Rodrigues, to call for a revamped assessment system in education, one where cramming, repetition and rote-learning are replaced by independent, critical thinking skills and capabilities. “Similarly, academic communication-anxiety provoking course-end exams should be replaced by progressive and comprehensive course-wide assessment. Let us work to transform our young minds from passive beneficiaries to active participants in their pursuit of real education.”

Teacher Grade I, Holy Trinity Higher Secondary, Benaulim, Anisha Dicholkar, also feels that the current model is heavily based on theoretical knowledge which severely lacks the emphasis that needs to be given to the application of this knowledge in practical life. “The shift from exam-oriented theory cramming to inculcating a skill set for the student to excel in life is essential. Until this change is implemented, exams will be the only credible judgement of talent and capability.”

Furthermore, she says there is a need to break the mould of engineering and medicine being the optimum choices. Children need to choose for themselves a career wherein they put to use their aptitudes and interests in the best way possible. “This is the only way to solve the current unemployment crisis and open the doors to a holistic and accelerated growth for India. I hope the new education policy steps in the right direction,” she says.

Principal Dhempe College of Arts and Science, Miramar, Vrinda Borker, is also in favour of revamping the entire education system and examination setup. In the present examination system, she says, emphasis is on memorising, rote learning and reproducing it during examination. “When thousands of students are appearing for the same exam, this method is suitable to provide a level playing field to all candidates. However, there is less scope to check conceptual understanding of students.”

The way forward, says Pushkar, director, The International Centre Goa, Dona Paula, may well be to find ways to make all-year internal assessment workable so that there is less emphasis on school-finishing exams. “At the same time, a common entrance exam for college admissions may become necessary and/or perhaps an Indian version of SAT may be needed. For the short term, the solutions will clearly be suboptimal.”

Career matters

But what about career wise? Given that it has always been emphasised that good marks at the board exams are important for securing a good job, will the new normal situation where board exams stand cancelled this year have an impact on students’ futures?

Not necessarily, says a learning coordinator at a five-star hotel, stating that in the hotel industry more emphasis is placed on skills.

“Mostly, the staff have an IHM degree or at least a diploma which is good. We don’t always pay 100 per cent attention to education. But yes, we do look into it. For back office jobs, it’s a given that they need to be a graduate and that means the education is important,” he says.

With regards to hospitality, only after one qualifies in board examinations, do they get admission in various diploma courses, graduation and post-graduation, says area human resource director – (IHCL), Goa and director of human resources – Taj Resort & Convention Centre, Goa, Ramu Vemulapally. “When people come for placements in our hotels, we look at their academics and training (industrial exposure training) as part of their course during their graduation, post-graduation, diploma and craft courses. We consider the major qualification and the contribution during the interview process. There are also few people who really don’t pursue graduation and will choose the skill development courses post their class 10 so as long as they undergo a skill certificate course that’s fine with us,” he says.

HR and admin executive at a renowned real estate company, Nadia Goes also says that marks don’t matter entirely. “I’m not saying they don’t. They do. But not entirely. And class 12 students still have an option of studying further so there again they don’t have to rely on their class 12 marks for a job. We mostly look for specialisations if a degree is a prerequisite for the job,” says Goes, adding that most of the learning happens on the job itself. “Though we may know a lot through theory, the actual assessment of a candidate happens on the job itself. That’s another reason we have probation periods so that the company and the candidate can understand and adjust to the reality of the job,” she says.