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Obsession with marks: A crisis in India’s schooling system

Photo: Hindustan Times

By Shahid Jamal 

CBSE has recently declared board exam results; this has brought both happiness and disappointment across the country to scores of families. This year’s results have broken records for high scores and with that also raised question about the system of assessment. In class 12th CBSE board examination, 18 students have scored 497 out of 500 marks. Among them, only six are from science stream. It is the marks tally that has raised eyebrows and not the conventional wisdom that science subjects are far more scoring than humanities.

The students are scoring 100 out of 100 in social science and humanities. It seems inappropriate to me as to how a student can score 100 out of 100 in these subjects, because subjects like social science, humanities and languages comprise of essays and subjective questions and students are supposed to answer most of the questions subjectively. Even after this if a student is academically so perfect that he or she manages to score 100 out of 100 marks in these subjects, then it should not be a matter of pride for parents and teachers. Rather it should be a matter of grave concern with respect to the education system, preparation of question papers and evaluation process.

There is an obsession in terms of scoring astronomical marks in board examination and this is really a subject of concern for those who promote creativity and critical thinking over rote learning. Nowadays there is immense pressure on students from parents, relatives, teachers, and school to score high marks in the examination and this destroys creativity and independent thinking. Exams have become nightmares for the students. Parents and teachers periodically remind children that if they do not score high marks in exams their future will be dark. Under these circumstances, children reluctantly start believing that learning is all about exams and high marks. The students of this generation have developed the habit of rote learning. They are expected to mug up everything from the books and notes and vomit them on answer scripts in exams.

This exam hysteria and the fad for scoring high marks have not only made students lethargic but also made them incapable of free and critical thinking. Now scoring high marks in exams have become the sole criteria to judge a student. High marks may be reflective of poor understanding. It indicates that the students have learned how to crack the code of the examination, not necessarily that they have grasped concepts. It is the pattern of the question papers that calls for reflection. The Central Institute of Education, Delhi University has expressed its concern over the CBSE results in these words: “Students are not being trained to develop a coherent argument on the subject they are studying.”

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Education means all-round drawing out of the best in child and man – body, mind, and spirit.” Gandhi had advocated about the multidimensional development of students. I am sorry to admit that the present pedagogy adopted by the modern schooling system does not cater to the needs of multidimensional and all-round development of our children.

In the pursuit of scoring high marks in board exams, a student does not merely depend on six hours of school learning but he or she has to join tuition and coaching classes to meet the demand of unnecessary expectations. Moreover, the parents have to bear the unnecessary financial burden in the form of coaching and tuition fees. We all very well know that every parent cannot afford tuition and coaching fees.

In one of his most celebrated books, Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich writes, “schooling in developing nations is used to create new elites with a consumerist mentality.” This seems very true to me when I closely look at the pedagogy of modern schooling system. The present schooling system clearly divides our society on the socio-economic ground. Let me illustrate the relevance of Illich’s narration in today’s context. As we all know that now education has become a commodity and to avail this commodity only affordability matters. People from the poor socio-economic background can’t afford it, while only the elites can afford quality education. This is how the modern schooling system divides society on the socio-economic ground.

In our modern society where education has become a commodity, the subject matter of education is solely determined by the market. This compels the stakeholders of the school to develop a consumerist mentality among children to cater to the need of the market.

After the declaration of CBSE board results, the very next day in newspapers we have seen the photos of toppers, the name of schools and the record of their students’ performance. It is surprising to me that the school presents itself in newspapers in such a way as if the students have not achieved this score on their own merit but because of the school. Scoring high marks by the students are the content of publicity for a school that easily increases the school’s capital in the market of education. Consequently, the graph of school’s enrollment and fees touches the sky.

Recently a student from Chhattisgarh committed suicide because of unexpected board exam results. To my mind, it is a failure of our education system that has not provided enough schemas to that child to understand that learning is not all about scoring high marks but it is much beyond that. How many times do we as teachers ask our students not to get disheartened or lose hope on getting poor results? How many times we are able to convince them that poor academic performance is not the end of the world? These are the most pertinent questions which we as teachers need to answer very honestly.

It is high time to teach the students the real meaning of learning and the real definition of success. Scoring high marks and achieving overall excellence are totally two different extremes. It is our responsibility to make our students understand that education requires an overall development of a child not merely a high score in exams.

It is indeed a clarion call for the academicians and policymakers to examine the present flaws of the evaluation process and to discourage rote learning and marks obsession by generously accommodating creativity, free and critical thinking in the pedagogy of our schooling system.

Shahid Jamal is an alumnus of Jamia Millia Islamia. Currently he is teaching PGT History in Crescent School, Ansari Road, New Delhi. He regularly presents papers in national and International seminars and writes for Urdu Newspapers and online portals.


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4 Responses to “Obsession with marks: A crisis in India’s schooling system”

  1. Mohit

    it’s a bitter truth but our education has really became a commodity.
    We really need reforms in our apparatus. And I appreciate people like you daring to do that. 👌
    All the best!

  2. jantaquestionblog

    यदि फेल पास करना है कभी भी तो
    पहली से यह तजुर्बा देना चाहिए ।
    यहां तक हार जीत का
    चुनाव भी अब नहीं होना चाहिए
    अभी तो यह फेल पास वाली नस्ल है
    थोडे दिन बाद चुनाव हारने पर भी
    हत्या-आत्महत्या वाली नस्ल आएगी।।

  3. Safoorah Sayed

    I wish India could have the education system like foreign where extra curriculars are given attention. I just wish to spend this remaining 5 months and then I’ll be over with these boards.😊


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