Quality or quantity in education
New curriculum and changed exam pattern brings SSC results closer to reality, which reflects in the assessment of merit, but it also exposes us to serious problems in teaching and learning
In 2008, the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (SSC Board) came up with a few tricks that helped its students compete with their counterparts in CBSE and ICSE boards. Percentage points were inflated by giving 20 internal marks for all subjects and grouping the best-of-five subjects to match the grades of non-SCC students, who easily got admissions to topmost junior colleges. The inflation showed a quantum jump in the ratings of Maharashtra's SSC board. Unbelievable but true, a year after the new system was introduced, the board managed to shoot up its passing rate by a sudden 9%. Thereafter, the results did not dip below 80%, except in 2011, between 2008 and 2018.
The balloon burst on Saturday when the SCC pass percentage dropped by 12.31 points as compared to last year. In the past 10 years, educationists have observed that quality students could sustain a cut-throat competition in top institutes and withstand the pressures that entrance tests for professional courses put on them, whereas others who were significantly large in numbers, did not have the aptitude for the courses (or subjects in Std XI and Std XII ) they aspired to, just because they had scored higher in SSC.
Saturday's SSC results are the outcome of a changed syllabus and revised exam pattern. They show a significant drop in percentage points of meritorious students who now fear that they will be denied seats in renowned colleges because students of other boards have higher scores. Education Minister Vinod Tawde, who has presided over the scheme of the new syllabus and revised exam pattern, sees no problem whatsoever for students. He said on Saturday that the number of other board students was much lower than the SSC board admission seekers. He said with 'marks inflation' being brought down considerably, students would now be able to understand their aptitude and choose a career accordingly, instead of crowding degree colleges that added to the force of unskilled unemployed people.
Languages at a loss
A major component that drastically increased the number of unsuccessful students – one in four - is poor performance in languages. It can be attributed to the weaknesses in both learning and teaching. It seems the language department was not in sync with the new curriculum that emphasised on theory, as was practised before the internal marks were introduced. The board should assess the nature of language learning and come to a conclusion and solution.
The best of five was in application this year as well but what has impacted the results is the scaling down of internal marks. Internals did not apply to languages and social sciences, but continued for maths and science. The 22% (some 2.5 lakh) students failed in Marathi, their first language (in a majority of cases the mother tongue). It's 12% higher than last year. Marathi's failure rate is higher than any other language option. English and Hindi did well but not better than last year.
Change is good, but...
Distressed parents foresee disadvantages hurting the prospects of their wards. They have a reason to slam the government-controlled board, the education department, the schools and highly-paid coaching classes who were caught unawares or did not have the ability to deal with the new methods of teaching and examination.
The parents who are ex-SCC board students should know that the curriculum changed several times when they were in school. But at the time the students were prepared to take up the challenge in advance. The curriculum for an important exam like SSC wouldn't change abruptly, but the process would start from a lower level such as Std V and Std VIII, and continue every year in progression till Std X.
Introduced in Std IX, the revised exam pattern that lays emphasis on student's comprehension and creative skills seems to have impacted the 2019 SSC outcome as much as the lack of internal marks. The 'understand-and-write-in-fixed-time' tests the academic excellence of both students and teachers. Old-timers identify with the pattern that was hard for minting big marks, but prepared students for attempting any question on this planet.
The challenge is tough. The need is to have SSC teaching quality improved by training the incumbents. Churning out good teachers from BEd and and DEd institutes and ensuring their free and fair recruitment in government and private schools should also be on the agenda of the government that wants a new national education policy for transforming curricular and teaching structure for school education. The draft policy says there will be no separation of curricular and extra-curricular areas, with both getting equal importance. Examination systems, too, will be radically changed to assess real learning, make them stress-free. The draft has been opened to the public for suggestions and objections. Those who care should email a word of concern to the Union government.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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