Newly sworn-in Union human resource development minister Kapil Sibal’s revolutionary proposal to make the class X board exam-inations history, and to replace the marks and percentages system in primary-secondary education with grades, has met with tepid response in Chennai, a city which prides itself on its quality K-12 education. Indeed the majority of academics — perhaps even most class X students — are against the proposal.
“If the class X board examination is made optional, government and aided schools catering to the poor and commercially-focused private schools will slacken their teaching efforts upto class XI. Class X board exams are necessary to assess learning outcomes of students at the end of ten years of schooling. Most well-managed schools put pressure on students to secure high percentages in class X boards to enable their admission into the best junior colleges. The solution for eliminating pre-board stress is to replace the percentage with a grades system, not abolishing the class X board exam. However, the HRD minister’s proposal to have a single school board in the country is a good idea as it will ensure syllabus and curriculum uniformity in all schools,” says S.S. Nathan, principal of the CBSE affiliated Bala Vidya Mandir, Chennai and CEO of the upcoming BVM Global Schools.
Educationists in this southern port city also point out that the enthusiastic new HRD minister’s anxiety to “de-stress” secondary school students while commen-dable, is being over-stretched. Not only does the class X public exam enable students to assess their own learning outcomes at an important stage of their lives, it is also pivotal to the system as it assesses them in different subjects and facilitates the selection of the right combination of subjects in arts, science and commerce at the Plus Two level, and later in college.
Moreover, since there are 41 school examination boards countrywide with differing evaluation standards and norms, the class X board examination ensures some standardisation. “Unless there is a common national curriculum and evaluation system for all schools, the class X exam should not be eliminated. Otherwise, it is difficult to assess competence of students moving for varied reasons, from one school to another after class X. If the government is serious about reforming the system, it should introduce standardised tests such as SAT or GRE which assess students’ problem solving and application skills, so that colleges can evaluate applicants on an equal footing,” says M. Vijayalakshmi, principal of the Alpha Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai.
In response to the minister’s call, the Delhi-based Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), which in effect is a subsidiary of the HRD ministry, has been quick to direct its 9,000-plus affiliated schools to make the class X CBSE exam optional for their students. But even so it has diluted the directive restricting it to schools which offer Plus Two (classes XI and XII) education.
In Tamil Nadu where there are four state examination boards and only 200 CBSE schools, of which a mere 96 offer Plus Two higher secondary education, there are likely to be few takers for Sibal’s populist proposal to abolish the class X board exam. The consensus of opinion is that the only purpose it will serve is to double the stress of students when they write the class XII board exam.
Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)