During first fifty years of post-Independence period in the country, the education sector’s growth was initially driven by Government investment. The private sector participation was mainly in primary and secondarylevel education. In higher education, the growth was through the colleges affiliated to the universities. The Government, through Boards of education as well as universities, controlled the schools and colleges respectively.
This arrangement caused ‘hub and spoke’ model of education without desired connectivity among hubs. As per CEIC data, the number of schools in India increased from 1,52,049 to 2,52,176 during 2005 to 2015. The higher education sector also had large dependence on affiliated colleges. As per a 2017 report, there were 268 affiliating universities across India with 39,071 affiliated colleges. 17 affiliating universities had more than 500 affiliated colleges each. One should not be surprised to see 4,00,000 to 5,00,000 students writing examinations conducted by a single university. While the growth has been pretty impressive in terms of number of colleges, it has also raised serious quality and relevance related issues.
Why do we conduct examinations? Conventionally, the main purpose of the examination is to select students for the next level of education, especially in in pyramid-structure situations in which the number of places at each successive level is reduced. The examination also helps in assessing the level of students’ accomplishment of the learning objectives. The examination is an important feed-back mechanism which helps in not only controlling the quality but also guiding the desired improvements in the curricula contents and pedagogy.
It is important to understand that in any resource-constrained education situation, as India faced post-Independence, the pyramid structure of selection-rejection is used in view of limited opportunities and large number of aspirants. Perhaps, this was the reason that forced the universities and boards to be in ‘critical selective’ mode. On the other side, it created fear of losing among the aspiring students and, therefore, instead of evolution of a ‘collective improvement’ system, the exam got converted to be the one-time race with ‘do or die’ spirit.
It also caused significant deviation from the ‘assessment of competency’ to ‘assessment of perceived higher competency’, which is neither ethical nor moral. The situation becomes more critical when the examination is conducted for certain ‘limited opportunity’ institution or university. For example; the mushrooming of coaching institutions for ‘limited opportunity examinations like IIT-JEE and NEET shows that we are heading towards a system that will produce less good than harm. The bigger problem comes with the ‘systemic-labelling’ of the examination success of students. If one succeeds in one examination or at one level, the forces of competition start favouring him/her at all levels and thus, limiting the room for the other masses who could not succeed due to one reason or another.
We have not sufficiently invested our resources and efforts in creating the mass-level awareness about not only the purpose of examination but also about the diverse range of opportunities available for students with different competencies. Instead of capacity-building of teachers at all levels, the most efforts in past appeared to be for creating an examination system with ‘fear, negativity, suspicion and rejection.’ No examination system with negativity and suspicion in its’ DNA can help accomplishing the desired positive outcomes. All judgment about ‘competencies’ and ‘abilities,’ based on a centralised examination is certainly not a desirable approach in any socially, psychologically and academically developed society. Looking at the fast-changing resource patterns with high demand for employable graduates, the pyramid structure does not seem to be any more valid in India. The time calls for collective actions in identifying the gaps and initiating the examination reform measures.