Despite the pandemic unleashing in full force, the debate over the last month has entailed a mindless conversation over holding or postponing board examinations instead of exploring alternatives. Rather than viewing this unprecedented situation as a unique opportunity for re-imagining educational assessments and evaluations in a world that no longer looks the same, the government insists on the possibility of holding exams in person and posing a further threat to the lives of loved ones.
Alternative ways of thinking
Students and parents have valid concerns about the future, which include admissions to higher educational institutions. Nonetheless, considering we are in a worldwide crisis where India cannot afford to have gatherings of small/big groups, why aren’t virtual educational committees being organised to rethink approaches on assessing student learning? For instance, one of the challenges is deemed as students ‘cheating’ if the exams were to be conducted online. However, if question papers were designed in a way that encouraged students to critically engage with the material, contest perspectives and build opinions, no book would be able to provide all the answers.
Relatedly, in light of the right to education that affirms the importance of formative assessments, teachers could be invited to engage in evaluating student’s performance across the year. If there are concerns around the tendency of schools to self-bolster thei performance, reports, portfolios, samples of responses and grades could be shared across a pool of schools so that teachers can anonymously assess and provide insightful feedback on student performance, until a sense of self-accountability and trust can be cultivated.
Opening up possibilities of evaluating students on their performance through the year will contribute towards making evaluation and learning much more holistic.
Further, inviting higher educational institutions to facilitate online entrance exams could be another option to explore as students gear up for college admissions. Eventually, the goal could be to involve students in self and peer evaluations so that the ability to reflect while participating in learning communities and giving/receiving feedback prepares them for what lies ahead.
The National Curriculum Framework of 2005 affirms the importance of embracing the emotional, social, physical and intellectual growth of children within a framework of human values. Thus, a question to consider is whether academic performances can continue to be the sole representation of student growth or we can begin to redefine student success based on social, emotional and spiritual development benchmarks.
We have an opportunity to redefine meaningful education and even though it does require a concerted change across curriculum in K-12 schools, the entrance criteria determined by higher educational institutions and what we value as communities and societies, we have to start somewhere. Viewing this crisis as a signal for urgent change, core issues can be engaged with and re-evaluated to prevent students from being trapped in the current system of cramming, rote learning and anxiety. The government needs to give complete autonomy to educational committees composed of students, teachers, educational leaders, scholars and researchers who can advocate, organise and implement this change nationally and internationally. Raising the quality of educational assessments and evaluations by involving higher educational institutions may even prevent a mass exodus to international universities so that young leaders can be nurtured to engage with underlying national challenges and add value by advocating for and sustaining the fabric of a diverse and nonstratified India.