Deconstructing the Examination

Greater Kashmir

We never think whether our school is making a human being, and developing an autonomous and self-reliant personality.

Examinations, it may be said, at the end of the school session, guide the behavior of children, parents and students towards education in our society. The way assessment is made in schools, and projected before people, has developed a perspective in our society with regard to education. We are obsessed with examination, and that’s why there is uproar over its postponement or holding in time. Examinations give sleepless nights not only to parents but grandparents as well, not to talk of children who are continuously grilled, constantly put under vigilance and surveillance, to fare well in examinations, without regard to how it affects their health, particularly what it could do in present circumstances. You must have seen your children turn healthy just in a week’s time school break, indicating how schools, in many cases, adversely affect child’s health. And the most overburdening part of schooling is the way examinations are conducted, in lower primary classes including KGs, and the way they become our breakfast time discussion, browbeating our children; or a discussion during our marriages, when our children are to face unit tests, and all family is abuzz with examination chorus, and how a marriage, or a bereavement has come in the way of these tests, generating discussion and argumentation, which is a kind of self-induced headache (Maenge-daeg in Kashmiri).
And, by the way, what are these examinations and tests, in most cases, ultimately like: just a mockery of whole purpose of education. Children sit cross-legged, for days together, at the near end of the session, and, as could be seen, write in exams what they have memorized and mugged up (not understood). They carry this legacy to secondary and higher classes where critical thinking is required. This trend has, since last many decades, continuously manufactured our perspective of education. I introduce my child not by his own name, but by the name of school, or a grade he gets. Why examination discourse should occupy our minds at the time of catastrophe is because examinations are be all and end all of our education, that’s why some sections are raking up this issue, keeping us to rant thereafter.  This time, living through and beyond catastrophe is greatest education our children could get. Our children have seen the tribulations enmasse, and they have seen it firsthand this year and, in a way, it was a great opportunity. Great! I don’t want to sound sadistic. Can there be better education than this? Is life all merrymaking minus crises? Trying time, I have seen, is a true forging place for man making, to use Comenius’s language. 
Whether exams for primary classes are held in November or March should not disturb parents. Even if exams, for these classes, are not held at all that won’t any way harm our children, or waste their time. Don’t children, grappling with psychological trauma, at present, need time to relax? There are other places that educate children than just going to school. Parents too must think about giving children better experiences at home than be obsessed with just school going, particularly at times when many school buildings are unsafe. A child being with you while you recover from flood devastation will be lifetime learning for him. In flood hit areas making children witness relief and recovery work, getting them organize help for others is going to go a long way in inculcating human values, than just confining them to a class.
In present times, we must try shun this examination obsession and parents having children studying in primary classes (i.e. until 9th) must not worry at all. There has been lot of pressure on Government regarding the examination issue, and many people are not happy by the decision of shifting the examinations to March. If early exams would put children under stress as is genuinely believed, why can’t education continue, without exams, like remedial education and working on hard spots in all subjects in a time before vacations. Government has deferred exams not education. Why can’t teachers and schools be creative in engaging children after the syllabus is complete? Does it mean that we are slaves of textbooks, and our education is subservient to examinations, which it is, unfortunately? Why can’t schools keep running without examinations? And why do teachers face threat of unemployment? Just shifting examinations to March does not mean closing our schools; yes, only those schools which are unsafe? March session means one thing more: new admissions to schools would get delayed. And that’s not a big problem.
We know there can be no one best absolute solution in this situation. Mass promotion too is not a bad option. It would definitely lift the stress off the students and direct their energies, and also prevent the session change but, on the other hand, the new session would get started forthwith, forcing children from affected areas, who have lost shelters and belongings, to prepare for the next session before winter in the form of running for uniforms, purchasing books and stationary, and many others would have to struggle for admissions in schools which turns out to be, in many cases, a costly affair, and many families would be unnecessarily put to strain. To handle this situation one option, for flood hit areas and children (after mass promotion), could have been giving time to parents to complete admission and other formalities until March, 2015 to ease pressure of joining next class. Schools, to ease this admission burden on parents, could propose some scheme and concessions in this regard. This could also give ample time to those schools which have lost some infrastructure to floods to set their system right. This restricts the problem to students beyond 9th grade. If mass promotion is not a good option for classes beyond primary then the syllabi could have been relaxed or paper pattern changed, and holding examinations to bring all classes in one line. Examinations and their timing become important beyond secondary classes because they are to be held keeping in view national level competitive examinations and eligibility.
As of now, the Government has decided for exams in March, next year. A review could be taken but the whole issue has to be seen from the angle of the greater good, not keeping some influential group happy, as is being suspected. Different associations related with schooling and stationary speak different language in this matter, highlighting their narrow perspectives. Public good, if sought by everyone, enables us to speak in unison.

The columnist teaches at Govt. College of Education, Srinagar.