On the first day of April, we saw the Prime Minister interacting with a large number of students in the fifth edition of ‘Pariksha Pe Charcha’. Like the previous years, the exercise was aimed at creating a pressure-free examination for young students. While the concern shown by the PM is highly appreciable, it also indicates that ‘something is not right with our examination system. The increasing pressure on students is worrisome; and there is a need for immediate reforms to improve the assessment and examination system in the country, at all levels.
I remember a student (18-year old) being debarred for three years from university as he was writing the examination with a piece of paper in his pocket, which contained some content related to the course syllabus. This was his first university examination and the university action implied that the student could not write any examination till the age of 21 years, irrespective of the fact whether the piece of paper was carried out intentionally or by error. In a somewhat similar experience, a 17-year-old girl was sent to police custody for reportedly cheating in the examinations.
The examinations are conducted to assess the performance. Nonetheless, for the development of society rather than outdated, coercive measures, some positive and constructive improvement interventions are desirable. We know that in certain parts of the country, a heavy police force is deployed to control the law and order situation during the examinations. Some state governments have even introduced imprisonment for those caught cheating or using unfair means in the examination. Some universities even debar the students from writing examinations for two to three years if they are caught cheating.
These examples clearly show that the purpose of education is being defeated through such immature steps which overlook the ‘fundamental purpose’ of why examinations are required. When administrators and policymakers prefer ‘coercive measures’ insensitive learning assessment-related issues, it reflects a lack of understanding about the examinations and their purpose.
India has the largest public examination system in the world. As per an estimate, approximately 14,433,107 students will be appearing in higher and secondary school level examinations this year. If we consider higher education, this figure would be more than 40 million. Here we are considering only the public education examinations, which are typically formal, summative, and controlled by an agency external to the school/college where the student has studied. It has been argued that education would be better served by less formal, continuous, school-based assessment. It is important to note that examinations (from the senior school level onwards) are mostly public examinations in India. The major question remains whether we are achieving the purpose of assessment through the examination and if yes, to what extent?
The examination system in India is mainly controlled by external agencies like the Boards of Education and affiliating universities. The autonomous colleges, residential universities, and premier institutions have their own independent examination system, but such institutions cater to less than 5 per cent of the total students who are acquiring formal school, college or university-level education. It is pertinent here to trace the historical background of the examination system in India