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Mumbai: CBSE’s open-book exams. Aye or nay?

Updated on: 24 February,2024 07:15 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Dipti Singh |

Educationists weigh in on the pros and cons of CBSE planning to introduce Open Book Exams for Stds IX to XII on a pilot basis later this year

Mumbai: CBSE’s open-book exams. Aye or nay?

The development and design of the pilot test are expected to be completed by June. Representation pic

Key Highlights

  1. CBSE board intends to initiate a pilot run of the Open Book Exam (OBE) for select subjects
  2. The pilot run for OBE is scheduled to take place in selected schools
  3. This assessment approach aligns with National Curriculum Framework released last year

As the CBSE board intends to initiate a pilot run of the Open Book Exam (OBE) for select subjects in Std IX, X, XI, and XII during internal examinations, stakeholders share mixed reactions over the potential change in the examination system. While principals of schools in the city affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) view the “open book exam” concept, designed to discourage rote learning, as a positive step, academicians caution that students and schools may be facing “too many changes, too soon”.

The pilot run for OBE is scheduled to take place in selected schools only in the month of November-December this year, focusing on subjects such as English, Mathematics, and Science for Std IX and X, and English, Mathematics, and Biology for Std IX and XII. This assessment approach aligns with the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) released last year.

The objective of this pilot run is to assess the time students require to complete such tests and gather feedback from both teachers and students. The development and design of the pilot test are expected to be completed by June, with the CBSE seeking assistance from Delhi University for this endeavour.
The open-book idea put forth by the CBSE board received mixed reactions from other stakeholders, too. Those who have welcomed the move have questioned the implementation of the system.

Principals say

According to several principals from the city’s CBSE schools, the open book concept is one of the methods by which the board is trying to change and reform the system of assessment and inculcate analytical skills among students. The move, they said, is aimed at correcting the “wrongs in the system”. However, it also has disadvantages and needs to be dealt with in a planned way, they said.

Deepshikha Srivastava, a seasoned educationist and an academic advisor at Hansraj Morarji Charity Trust, says it is a very good initiative, but requires proper monitoring, training and acquainting teachers and students about this concept.

As principal of Rajhans Vidyalaya, a CBSE school in Andheri, Srivastava had introduced the open book concept in Std XI in 2012. She told mid-day that the exercise garnered mixed reactions from teachers, students as well as parents. “OBE is definitely a step forward to knowledge-based education. With the experience I have got, I can say that the OBE proposal will work only if the teachers are first trained and oriented towards this kind of assessment methodology. It was also introduced in some topics for younger children in Rajhans. With a sudden change in the curriculum in Std XI, we felt that students were finding it difficult to absorb the content. Hence, we started the open book concept in their assignments and it worked well to a certain extent. The aim was to ensure that students read the entire book and understand the content, instead of reading certain chapters from the point of view of giving common entrance tests. As 90 per cent don’t read the entire book, the assignments were not easy for them and it took them time to answer the questions,” she said.

She added, “The mugging and rote learning trend has led to a lot of problems. Students manage to clear entrance and get into IITs, however, at later stages they cannot perform, causing issues. However, I believe if OBE has to be implemented it should be implemented from at least Std V so that by the time students reach Std IX and X they get used to the pattern. I am not very sure about implementing it from higher classes.”

Move from rote learning

The thought process behind concepts like open book and introduction of “problem solving assessment” (for Std IX and XI by CBSE). It is to move away from rote learning to developing analytical skills among children from an early age. It is just a pilot run for now, whatever format the open book proposal finally takes, it will require a different approach towards teaching and learning I feel. These various proposals are meant to test ‘higher order thinking skills’ of students rather than relying on a rote-based methodology,” said Anuja Karthik, a teacher from a school in south Mumbai.

A former principal of a CBSE school and educationist said, “CBSE needs to go slow now. Introducing new schemes each year and getting reform after reform in the current system will not only trouble students, but also school teachers and principals. Though schools are willing to support the idea of making a stress-free system for students, CBSE will have to put a full stop to any more reforms at least until the previous ones are implemented systematically. Bringing in changes needs proper training and most important, the mental preparedness of the teachers, and students otherwise the system would fail.”

Nitin Upasani, educationist and former secretary of Mumbai division of Maharashtra state board too feels the same. He says that systems like open book exam have both disadvantages and advantages. “CBSE board might call it student friendly, which is true but that may not help the students in the long run. This open book exam system will reduce the speed of writing and answering among students, who will have to first understand the question, analyse the situation and write the answer accordingly. In later stages, for various reasons, these students may choose to go to other boards after Std X or XII. If they don’t get this facility there it will affect them. Luckily, the government is planning uniformity in all boards, so it might be a saviour, but that will take time. Instead, they should have a system which will encourage analytical learning and help students have basic knowledge of the subject to understand the fundamentals,” Upasani said.

Upsani suggested that OBE be implemented for only descriptive subjects like languages and to some extent social science (History, geography). 

‘Proper implementation vital’

Arundhati Chavan, president of the Parent-Teachers’ Association United Forum, said proper implementation is crucial to making this a success in India. “It is a good move but the question is how it will be implemented. It requires proper skills to set the questions and ensure that they are application based so that children can apply their thinking abilities while writing. Else, the concept will not serve its purpose. In 2013 too CBSE had announced the Open book assessment system. In fact, it was implemented to some extent. I don’t remember what happened then. Now they are doing a pilot run again.” 

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