Hazards of mass promotions

Our students need to introspect and understand how much they have learnt at the end of the session rather than count how many marks and certificates they have obtained
Representational Pic
Representational Pic

Teaching and learning is a two-way bridge. While teachers impart necessary training, transmit knowledge and develop prescribed skills, and expertise among their students, latter must reciprocate with added innovative inputs, creative insights and analytical perspectives. While learning is a never ending quest, assessment and evaluation are significant milestones of this journey; but not the destination. However assessment and evaluation is the logical conclusion and fitting culmination of an effective teaching-learning process without which this transaction remains incomplete and consequently effectiveness of this process remains inconclusive. Learning outcomes of teaching cannot be sufficiently accomplished and ascertained unless students are adequately assessed and evaluated for the same no matter what kind of means and methods are adopted for that purpose. Assessment and evaluation ethically, epistemologically and statutorily binds a student in an uncompromising commitment to learn, fulfill the set criteria and acquire necessary knowledge outlined in the curriculum. Once this binding is scrapped, teaching-learning process becomes rudderless and student's commitment towards learning is rendered entirely personal rather than obligatory in nature.

It is no hidden secret that in our scheme of things, only a small percentage of our students remains personally committed and sufficiently self-motivated towards learning while unfortunately a vast majority of them, practically speaking, enter educational institutions merely to earn their degrees and subsequently seek jobs to earn their livelihood. More than the students themselves, our education system needs to be blamed for this debacle. Worldwide, focus of education is rapidly shifting from imposed teaching to self-learning, from obtruded knowledge to self-exploration, from stringently packaged-learning to free and creative thinking but it will take some time in our settings to inculcate that kind of mental attitude, creative ideals and constructive mindset among our students owing to our meager exposure to the best practices followed in the developed world and therefore at this juncture we cannot completely give away our conventional methods overnight. Our transition towards this kind of enlightened thinking has to be gradual and well-calibrated; nevertheless sooner or later this kind of transition has to happen. We have to liberate our education from the shackles of monologous and monotonous teaching.

On June 3rd, 2020 an amalgam of 30 trade bodies in the valley including Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) revealed that Kashmir has witnessed 3000 days of lockdown in the last two decades. That means Kashmir valley has remained shut on account of strikes, curfews and other disturbances for nearly nine years in the last three decades due to which our education sector has suffered immensely. As a result of frequent disruptions in the classwork during this period, many times mass promotions have been accorded to the students in schools, colleges as well as universities of J&K which has resulted into many batches of the students passing out of their schools and graduating from their colleges and universities without facing any examinations. Of late this practice appears to have developed a sweet tooth for such promotions or large scale deductions in the syllabi, among our students. However, it is a dangerous trend fraught with disastrous consequences upon our budding generations. Students can now be seen going on strikes, boycotting their classes demanding mass promotions or syllabus deductions particularly as an aftermath of the lockdown enforced by the government. They have started claiming mass promotions as their fundamental right that cannot be denied to them. This way we are aiding and abetting churning out of graduated illiterates and uneducated graduates from our colleges and universities. In absence of any robust evaluation and examination system, most of our students do not deem it necessary to study and learn what has been prescribed in their syllabus. If the degrees keep coming to them on a platter most of them won't bother to study.

Instead of developing novel and innovative ways to assess and evaluate the students, we sometimes find it easier to dole out mass promotions to the students at large and absolve ourselves of all responsibilities of evaluating the basic pre-requisites of graduation among students. This way we are paving way for a long-term deterioration of our society since this act amounts to slow poisoning, because mass promotions will lead to graduates sans any knowledge, skills and competencies. People will be holding degrees in their hands without any aptitude and know-how about their area of expertise. Such graduates can hardly be expected to contribute significantly towards nation building.

There is no denial of the fact that frequent shutdowns in the valley have taken a toll on the education sector. Students are finding it hard to receive knowledge from their teachers building more pressure upon them to study on their own and explore educational resources for themselves. Though some online teaching has been started post-covid lockdown in April this year, due to low internet speed and poor connectivity students have been finding it hard to attend online lectures without any disruptions. Teachers have also been finding it hard to upload audio/video files and even powerpoint presentations over various online platforms like Google Classroom etc. Less than 50% of students have been able to attend online classes and even this percentage is facing lot of difficulties in downloading PPT files and attending lectures without any upsetting disturbances. Overall it has been a very discouraging and unpleasant experience for the teachers whose work including their teaching, research output, extension and outreach activities have been drastically affected by these frequent lockdowns. They have not been able to attend any scientific conferences nor have they been able to present or publish any research papers which are direly needed for their academic growth and career progression. Last one year has been the most unproductive year in their career. However mass promotion is no solution to this problem faced by the students.

Biggest lesson learnt over the last some decades of turmoil has been that all educational institutions must create and strengthen their online teaching platforms and packages where they can maintain attendance of students, interact with them and answer their queries in real-time, monitor all online classes from one place, assess and evaluate them online, where audio and video files can be shared and uploaded freely and where students can complete and submit their assignments too. Education must not be allowed to suffer under any circumstances. Students must continue to attend online classes in spite of the flaws and short-comings of online teaching using networks running at a snail's pace and they must be assessed using online platforms at the end of the session. Assessment may include MCQ-based questions, oral viva, brief presentations on specific topics or sub-topics randomly selected by the teacher on-the-spot, problem-based learning using case studies allowing open-book examination wherever required, group discussions and other group activities based on teamwork and outcome-based learning. Any online mode of assessment that evaluates and ensures that the students have acquired sufficient knowledge and gained sufficient skills and competency in their respective subjects will suffice the need, no matter which platform or method is used to test the same. Teachers who teach their students must be given full autonomy to assess and evaluate them online by all possible means.

Main focus of our students should always be on learning rather than on passing examinations and gaining degrees. They need to introspect what and how much they have learnt at the end of the academic session. If we try to appropriate the system to our advantage by unscrupulous means we will be fooling ourselves and not the system. While pushing for mass promotions we need to make a hard choice whether we want to develop ourselves as knowledgeable graduates or educated illiterates. It is time that we strengthen our resolve and commitment towards gaining knowledge.

(Author teaches at the Dept. of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Kashmir)

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