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  Reform exams
  The real task before Sibal  
  THE first point to make about the official proposal to scrap the Board examinations for Class X, announced with much fanfare some days back, is that it has already been withdrawn for all practical purposes. The moment Union Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal amended the proposal and agreed to make the examinations "optional" for students, the idea was all but abandoned.

It should be obvious that only a minuscule minority of parents, deciding for their student proteges, will opt against the examinations. They will do so for the same reason that prompted most of them to opt against university education in the medium of an Indian language when the alternative of the English medium was available.

They will be guided by the apprehension, not unreasonable, that their children will be placing themselves at a grave disadvantage in the employment market by choosing not to sit for the Board examinations. It is an unreal option that is being offered.

It will be a great pity if the mandarins and managers of education leave the matter there. Instant abolition of these particular Board examinations may not be an achievable target, and the exercise may take considerable time even if pursued earnestly. This, however, should not become an alibi for continued inaction on examination reforms in schools, adopted as an objective with an academic consensus and the approval of the 'aam aadmi' some 56 years ago.

The system of examinations, including those conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education, calls for a serious review and reform for two reasons. The first is the same as recognised by the Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar Commission on Secondary Education (1952-53), which came out sharply against the "lack of validity, reliability and objectivity" in the system of evaluation. Pretty little has changed in this respect in the period since then.

The Education Commission (1964-66) could only note the still incomplete "activity" on education reforms in the boards. Despite the claimed changes in question papers and the content of syllabi, the evaluation system remains extremely inadequate as acknowledged in the repeated proposal to abolish the first of the board examinations.

The second factor, cited now again by the HRD Minister, is the extraordinary stress put on very young students by the external examinations at this level. In 2006, the last year for which we have official figures, the examinations drove about 5,000 students to suicide. The unfairness of testing a student, not by his or her performance over ten years of schooling, but by the showing in a series of examinations over a single, fateful month should be obvious and admitted as such. All the more so for the fear inculcated in the students that a failure in these examination slams on them the door to a secure future.

This is a test our educators have failed, and one they must now prepare to pass. They can pass it with distinction, if they pool all the available educational wisdom and resist pressures against reforms from a variety of vested interests.

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