Over the years, there have been reams written on what ails our school educational system and what needs to be done by way of reform.
I was visiting a reputed CBSE school in the temple town of Srirangam adjacent to Trichy in 2012. My colleague told me that the school was administered by a venerable gentleman of the old school who was also the school correspondent. The gentleman did not like publishers over much and it would be difficult to see him. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” I said and sent in my card. Guess, the Delhi address did the trick and I was ushered in.
The gentleman looked up from his papers, a little annoyed at the disturbance. But I looked at the glass cupboard behind him and saw that he had the most amazing collection of dictionaries. They were from a variety of publishers and comprised both the vocabulary version with a large number of headwords and the English Language Teaching ones with fewer headwords for English usage. Thinking I would put him at ease and also establish a relationship, I commended him on his collection and told him that I did take a programme on the history of dictionaries and also more effective use of the dictionary in the classroom. He was proud of his collection and happy that I had drawn attention to it. He was interested in the workshop on dictionaries and filter coffee was sent for.
We got a little comfortable and he again scrutinised my visiting card. “You are from Delhi?” he asked. I could see something was bugging him. Suddenly, he blurted out, “I would like to issue a challenge to Mr Sibal, sir” he said in the way that people associate the “Delhi-vasis” with the government of the day. Kapil Sibal was the then Union minister for Human Resource Development. I stammered that I was not a close acquaintance of the minister. It was true we were both fellow trustees on the board of the scholarly review journal Biblio but Mr Sibal hardly attended any of our meetings. The only other time I had met him was when I gave my seat to accommodate him at a packed Amartya Sen event as we were the organisers and the hosts could not be seen sitting while others were standing. In the unlikely event of my meeting Mr Sibal in the future, I asked my host what the challenge was all about.
“I would like to challenge Mr Sibal to introduce the CCE in class 12 sir” said my host defiantly. Now the cat was truly out of the bag. The Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation system (CCE) was the form of assessment in schools mandated by the Right to Education Act in 2009 and implemented in the academic year 2010. It replaced the traditional annual examination system of assessment by assessing students throughout the year by the Formative and Summative assessment methods. The formative method consisted of a series of projects, quizzes, innovative assignments, etc done at both home and in the school. The summative consisted of a series of tests held at periodical intervals to assess the children on what they had learned during the intervening periods. The portions examined in one summative test would not be carried over for the next. The numerical method of awarding marks was replaced by a grading system and the annual class 10 Board Exam was made optional.
This new method of assessment was hailed as revolutionary in some quarters but not in all. It was also stated that it would reduce the trauma and stress of appearing for the 10th Board Exam but the class 12 Board Exam would be held as per the usual pattern.
Fortified by the coffee, I asked my friend what was specifically bothering him as the school was now in its third year of implementation of the CCE. He said the CCE had resulted in the students not taking their studies seriously, and worse, there was no longer any sanctity for exams. Even the summative tests were treated with disdain. “Why sir, I was passing the hall where a summative test was about to be held and the students were laughing and joking outside the hall! Let Mr Sibal introduce CCE in the 12th class, sir, the joke will be on him!”
Before taking my leave, I gently remonstrated that the class 12 assessment had to be a Board Exam with external evaluation as its results would have to be evaluated by authorities like college administrators for it formed the basis of college admissions. But this was to no avail.
Over the years, there have been reams written on what ails our school educational system and what needs to be done by way of reform. While the Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) by the NGO Pratham among rural children makes for depressing reading each year, the learning outcomes of the children enrolled in CBSE schools were none too good either. The educational system with two annual Board Examinations at the end of the 10th and 12th classes prepared students for rote learning with exclusive focus on obtaining high marks in the boards. Under this system, it was felt that life skills and values which were of greater relevance as the students transited from adolescence to adulthood were ignored.
The CCE system offered a chance to change all this. It felt that the board exams were often a traumatic experience for most students and surely a change could be initiated. Accordingly, under the CCE, the 10th Board Exam was made optional in the schools. It’s interesting to see that if we look at the north-south geographical divide among CBSE schools, 80 per cent of the students of CBSE schools in the southern part of the country appeared for the boards while the opposite was true in the north. In a way, this fact alone negated the “principle” of the CCE, which had as its premise that gradually the 10th boards would be done away with. But even more importantly, the CCE was based on the belief that children need to be evaluated in a holistic manner. Not all students are gifted “academically” (whatever this may mean) or let’s say, have enough interest in a subject to pursue it with passion. But such students could be gifted in other areas like the sports field, in the arts, in leadership and innovation and so on. The CCE now assessed and gave them grades for these. Getting good grades in these equally important “subjects” raised their self-esteem and motivated them to perform better in the scholastic areas too. As a result, their overall cumulative grade percentage average (CGPA) was better.
There were many other negatives that worked against the CCE. Projects it was felt were done at home with the help of parents. Schools were not above inflating the internal assessment grades to boost the overall results. The CBSE was not doing enough of an overall vigilance of the internal assessment. The descriptive indicators issued by the CBSE to serve as guidelines for the formative assessment were being copied wholesale by schools. More importantly, the devaluation of the 10th Board Exam made the students carefree and lackadaisical, and thus they were not adequately prepared for the 12th boards.
In a sense perhaps, the CCE was an idea whose time had not yet come, if we are to slightly amend Victor Hugo’s quote. More’s the pity. It has now been formally dismantled. It failed because it was not formally accepted and internalised by the academic community — teachers, principals and parents who were the principal stakeholders. To go back to our educationist in Srirangam, “Children were laughing and joking before the exam, sir.” Yes, our mindset only allows nervous, fearful and apprehensive students to take exams!
The writer is a senior publishing industry professional who has worked with OUP and is now a senior consultant with Ratna Sagar Books