Board examinations play a decisive role in a student’s life in India. It certifies a student’s capacity for pursuing higher education and validates the quantity and quality of learning that a student may have acquired in 10 – 12 years of schooling.
Board examinations are also the first external examination for students. Major decisions in students’ lives depend on the outcome of board exams, especially choices around of continuing in academics, entering into vocational fields and choosing subjects. Passing percentages at the state level in board examinations determine the health of the overall education system.
Board examination results are equally important for administrators and bureaucrats to take stock of the health of the education system and assess if the policies intended to improve education are working as desired. With their high stakes, board examinations have been under the critical lens of policy level documents such as the Kothari Commission, Learning without Burden and also the National Curriculum Framework 2005. Some of the major issues identified in the current system are an excessive reliance on written form of examination, rote-based questions and inducing unnecessary stress on the students.
This study attempts to understand whether board examinations are aligned to the aims of education and the extent to which they test the appropriate knowledge and skills developed through various school subjects. In so doing, we have studied processes of the board examinations and analysed question papers of all subjects for the years 2013 to 2015.
We have attempted to develop secondary level learning outcomes through workshops, and we collaborate with Karnataka Secondary Education Examination Board (KSEEB) in sharing guidelines for developing quality question papers.
It is important to understand the transitions in assessment and evaluation system in the current reforms. This is in the context of implementing Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) by various states and the choice for students to opt between school-based and board-based assessment at class 10 by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). It is also important to understand how the current board examination pattern relates to reforms suggested in national policy documents.
Boards selected for the study are the CBSE in Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. The study also makes recommendations for board examinations to become more meaningful and aligned with the aims of education.
The development of quality standards is paramount for any system and in order to understand and track the learning levels of students in the country. These standards should explicitly state the knowledge, skills and dispositions that the education system should strive to achieve.
The National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) pioneered the development of Learning Outcomes for grades 1 to 8 in consultation with academics, practitioners, researchers and various civil society organisations across India. It developed suggestive pedagogical approaches to provide guidance to teachers. Various state governments adapted their respective state curricula in alignment to these outcomes and developed contextual state specific learning outcomes.
Taking this effort ahead, Azim Premji Foundation has attempted to develop learning outcomes for grades 9 and 10 for Languages, Social Sciences, Science and Mathematics. These outcomes are aligned to the NCERT curriculum and syllabus. It is our endeavour to advocate these outcomes across states in India in order to arrive at common standards for learning at the secondary stage.
Context and Issues
Board examinations are regarded as high stakes evaluation in India. Parents are critical stakeholders of the board examination, with the exams helping them determine further schooling for their children.
The quality of what gets assessed in board exams and how that gets taught in schools, therefore, becomes a matter of deep reflection and thought for any education department. In this context, in Karnataka, then Karnataka Secondary Education Examination Board (KSEEB), an apex body entrusted with the task of designing, implementing and reporting Board exam results has proactively sought to review the quality of the yearly board exams and improve them further. The vision of the institution is to ensure:
- That board exam papers reflect the knowledge, skills and dispositions required to succeed in the 21st century.
- That board exams do not encourage rote memorisation, cramming and processes that make the test the only aspect of learning in the classroom.
- That board exams are conducted and evaluated in a fair, transparent and credible manner.
- That board exam results are announced on time with 100 % accuracy and integrity.
What is of foremost importance in meeting these objectives is to ensure that board exam papers reflect the most important curricular objectives for each subject. It means that there should be a thorough process to minimise questions that test bookish knowledge by drill and rote learning.
An independent review carried out by experts in education suggests that at present, close to 50 % or more of the questions in SSLC Board exams are directly taken from the textbook. These questions are memorised by rote learning by students through repeated drill and practice to pass the exams. The preponderance of questions carrying one mark and 2 marks (objective type) allows for mass copying and other malpractices on the ground. Most importantly, a paper with questions directly taken from the textbook fails to assess critical skills as application, analysis, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity etc, all of which are core to education and extremely critical for the success of students in the present world.
A fallout of such papers is that classroom teaching pays minimal attention to the development of conceptual understanding, reasoning, application and other higher order thinking skills among students. The tendency of frequent drill and practice, revision lessons, practice classes to cram answers of solved question papers of previous years, dilutes the pedagogy making it entirely oriented towards teaching to the test. While this may help marginally in scoring in the board exam papers, it is not useful in the long run as students end up being unsuccessful in aptitude tests, competitive exams or end up going to several coaching centres to learn the basic concept and skills that they should have learnt in school!
To emerge from this vicious cycle of testing, it is of utmost importance to raise the quality and efficacy of the board exams. Board exams should reflect the goals of quality education and systematically assess them, using authentic and reliable benchmarks of learning.