The various proposals being weighed by the Central Government (abetted by a proactive but shortsighted media) to do away with standard X/XII board exams, make the boards optional or have just one national board are ill advised and do not augur well for the academic future of the country.
The various boards cater to the diverse needs of the varied student community and having one common board in a country with pronounced diversities like India will further water down the standards. The CBSE and ISC are way ahead of the state boards in most respects except for Maths where it is said that the syllabi of the Andhra Pradesh and Bihar boards are tougher.
Besides, the national boards, in particular the ICSE/ISC, are elitist and are primarily meant for those students who hail from a certain socio-economic background and who wish to educate themselves exclusively in the Queen's English given the stress they place on the study of English classics (eg: Shakespeare, Milton, Maugham) from Middle School, while most of those appearing for the state board exams study in the respective regional language and even where the medium of instruction is English (in a state board school) it goes without saying that the quality of the study material, competency/fluency of the faculty and the proficiency of English language skills attained by the students vastly differ from the prevailing standards that exist in the famed public schools. Furthermore, with refined international boards like the IB and IGCSE flourishing in urban areas of India since the past few years, one wonders how students appearing for these exams who wish to stay behind in the country after completion of class XII or in case a student wishes to switch boards after the class X itself will be accommodated in the proposed system.
In a country as diverse as India where casteist, linguistic, religious, cultural, social and economic differences are very marked, it makes little sense to standardize education at the X or XII grades of study as that would certainly involve a great dilution of the present educational standards and will introduce a haphazard functional framework as spokespersons representing groups of people of diverse regional tastes backed by opportunistic politicians will attempt to infuse the new system with their peculiar idiosyncrasies, biases or demands and in the process a great "compromise" will be arrived at in an attempt to mollify all concerned.
So, in short, any attempt at standardization will not work here unlike say in the US, Germany or Japan where it (standardization) works better in view of the fact that the homogenization of the population in these countries in most aspects is more prominent and the disparities or diversities as encountered in India are minimal or negligible. It is also easier to standardize education from the beginning in these nations as compared to India as the language of interaction or medium of instruction at all levels and in all spheres of life is invariably conducted in one language which is the national language (English, Japanese or German).
The idea of allotting the assessment of students to the school authorities should be discouraged as in India nefarious factors such as bribery, nepotism, vindictiveness, political patronage or muscle power are rampant which would consequently convert the entire procedure into a farce in many respects.
If a single national board is sought to be established for class X or XII, then various levels of syllabi (for a particular standard and for a specific subject) such as basic�, intermediate� or advanced� ought to be made available so that students of different capacities and backgrounds can chose the level of study and assessment that best suits their aptitudes and temperaments. Additionally, it will be best if schools are encouraged to expand their infrastructure and facilities (with or without government help) to ensure that the transition from standard X to XI is a smooth process and that as far as possible a student continues studying in the same school at the XI and XII levels with the stream of study (science, commerce or arts) being determined by the standard X level of study chosen and the grades obtained by the student in that particular level at the national board exam. Only those opting, for instance, for the advanced� science and mathematics level at standard X ought to be considered for admission to science courses at class XI and that after the standard XII national board exams only those with a score of 70% or above should be permitted to take the national entrance exams for admission to professional courses in engineering, medicine, pure science, architecture or pharmacy. For this the national entrances ought to be timed to coincide with the declaration of the XII board exam results.
Online testing, submission of statement of purpose (essay) of wanting to join a particular professional course, personal interview, group discussion and ability to think a little out of the box ought to be looked into as critical parameters of the new testing for admission to professional courses as the old system as seen in the IIT JEE, AIIEE, CETs, etc., are too focussed on gauging a narrow aspect of a student's knowledge of the subject revolving around shallow skills of manipulating numbers and equations in a rigid and traditional sense. A few subjective philosophical or penetrating questions based on correlations of diverse kinds of knowledge systems, limitations of present approaches and systems of scientific knowledge, causal links of science with other apparently unrelated disciplines and with life in general, awareness of eco-sensitive issues and the imperative need to make our approach less aggressive and more benign when dealing with nature and specific human needs ought to be included as part of the comprehensive testing procedure. This multi-pronged strategy will go a long way in diluting the harsh reality of India being reduced to a nation of crass imitators and submissive techno-coolies that has in almost all ways failed to produce true innovators and inventers in science and technology and can shore up our pronounced drawbacks in conducting original research . This incisive filtering process will ascertain the innate thinking capacity and vision of a student at the X and XII stages and will identify a core group of capable students for assessment at the national science and technology entrances and will automatically reduce the burden on the system. A similar approach can be worked out for non-science courses like accountancy, law, journalism, fashion designing, business administration and others.
Dr A K Isaacs
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