Someone I know very well has just completed his engineering course and joined an IT company. He was selected by the company after a rigorous online selection test. Many of his friends have also taken the selection test in other renowned companies. I have seen him taking online selection tests on behalf of his friends and all of his friends got selected too.
I asked him whether his friends will be able to do their work after their selection. He said, there is no connection between what is asked in the test and what they would do at the job. Since the supply of engineering graduates are so high, the selection test is very tough. They can easily survive in their jobs with no issues.
Reflecting further on this I found that passing an examination – whether the school board exams or the entrance exams to professional colleges in India has no link to what people do in real life. Every year, board exams churn out so many ‘toppers’ who excel in rote learning; they possess no skills, values, or critical thinking!
I remember a cartoon that I have seen recently in which a boy attending an interview for an entry-level position was asked what skills he got to his credit; to which he replied: “I have good exam writing skills”.
Due to the discrepancy between skills needed to survive in life and skills needed to pass an exam, children suffer in later life. Quite often there is a mismatch between class toppers in schools and real achievers in later life. None of the heroes of my school days became achievers in later life.
We should rethink the processes of evaluation and learning, and the questions of application and relevance. Our schools should start thinking beyond examinations which gives them a lot of stress as they fail to assess their competencies and real passions. Education must be more enjoyable and interesting rather than competitive.
A couple of years ago, my son attended an orientation on appearing in competitive exams of IIT/JEE type. The expert present there told him that on the exam day he should not even be talking to anyone in the exam hall. The reason that the expert said was that if he talks to others, he may hear a lot of things that he has not studied, which could make him tense, and he might finally lose his confidence.
The expert further said, he should assume the person sitting on his left and right in the exam hall are his enemies. Doing so would give him a ‘fighting spirit’ and so on. It made me think about the kind of people we are creating through such competition-oriented exam systems!
Education should not be in a highly programmed environment, rather education should ignite the imagination of students and enable them to dream the impossible. They should be exposed to the colors of the wind, the tears of the ghettoes, and corridors of pow-er. They should observe and learn from all these.
As Ivan Illich observed, “Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being “with it,” yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation.”
Illich went on to say that “the sickening effect of programmed environments show that people in them become indolent, impotent, narcissistic and apolitical. The political process breaks down because people cease to be able to govern themselves; they demand to be managed.”
Just as schools ask stud-ents to obey rules, they sh-ould also be allowed – rat-her trained to question, ch-allenge, and courageously ask difficult questions at the right time in the right manner. Schools should al-so teach values of honesty and integrity. It should te-ach the value of freedom a-nd how important it is that they should be free in their thinking and critically und-erstand the political and economic processes which decide the destiny of their lives. Schools should teach tolerance and the beauty of differences and how to respect differences. They should teach them how to earn their livelihood and allow them to take internships and part-time jobs. Above all, they should be taught how to have fun in life while doing all these! A final board exam should not decide the future of students and their so-called merit and their superiority or inferiority.
Then what is the alternative when we don’t have final board exams? Students should be taught and assessed on a weekly and monthly basis by the schools. Governments should build the capacity of schools to impart such internal assessments and devise foolproof methods and standards to make these processes effective.
When there are no board exams, it is likely that professionals and other colleges will introduce stricter entrance examinations. In that context, questions can come about profiteering and other exploitative malpractices by the ‘competitive examination business’ in India which has multinational investments and is being monopolized by a handful of institutions.
What is being taught in the competitive examination coaching centers is nothing but making students solve hundreds of real and model questions of previous exams. If we eliminate repeating the same pattern of questions and include more methods to understand the passion and talents of the aspirants to various courses and colleges, the inimical influences of the coaching centers can also be eliminated.
In fact, the entrance exa-mination system perpetua-tes social inequality. If you have to join an IIT or similar institute, you must complete an expensive coachi-ng program in a premier in-stitute for at least 2 years. You should have the time, resources, and energy to s-olve at least 300 problems per night from a guideb-ook. Students from marginalized communities are el-iminated even during the p-re-examination phase itself. It is high time to think beyond board examinations and entrance examinations to build a better society based on the real skills, talents, and aspirations of individuals.