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Time to Rethink and Reform the Examination System


Alas,  the colonial mindset of subjecting their subjects to the supervision and control of their masters has only deepened, as far as the education, examination, and evaluation systems are concerned. Isn’t it desirable or isn’t it the time to reform these terminal examinations to the teacher-based and school-supervised comprehensive continuous internal assessment – an idea that has been in discussion for decades?

We are faced with a serious dilemma. Hold the examinations, and endanger the health & even the lives of a lot of people-the examinees, their families, invigilators, evaluators, and a whole host of others involved in the elaborate logistics that entail. Do not hold examinations and risk jeopardizing the prospects of close to 14 million (1.4 crores) young students. CBSE may account for around 10 per cent of students at stake while the rest may be coming from state and other boards. The choices are not easy,  particularly when you take into account the fact that a significant majority of the students come from rural, remote, and disadvantaged districts, often required to temporarily relocate, at times with their families, just to be within the reach of their examination centres. And yet, this is the group where the opportunity cost of delaying or defaulting the examination is the highest.

Pandemic may be the immediate reason for this predicament. It has only exacerbated the challenges that existed even otherwise. We are in dire straits primarily because of the kind of examination system that we follow. We believe that the teachers can be trusted only to teach but not to assess and evaluate their own students, even though they may have taught and interacted with them for a full academic session. We are lax about teaching, allowing all kinds of teachers to teach. But when it comes to examination and evaluation, we tend to apply all kinds of standards of ethics, morality, qualification, experience, etc.

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We are lax about teaching, allowing all kinds of teachers to teach. But when it comes to examination and evaluation, we tend to apply all kinds of standards of ethics, morality, qualification etc.

We believe that the credibility of the examination system can be ensured only if it is conducted through an elaborate system of checks and balance: a different school for the examination so that the students are not invigilated and supervised by their own teachers; coding and decoding of the answer scripts to ensure anonymity and confidentiality in the evaluation process; collection and despatch of the answer scripts to examiners often based at a distant location or alternatively organizing central evaluation at designated locations; tabulation, checking, rechecking, scrutiny and moderation of marks; and a lot more. Introduced at various time periods, they have all ended up adding layers of complications in the conduct of examinations and the process of evaluation.  Alas,  the colonial mindset of subjecting their subjects to the supervision and control of their masters has only deepened, as far as the education, examination, and evaluation systems are concerned.

And to what purpose do we undertake such a rigmarole? Just to serve as the first level of scrutiny. If you have scored this much then only you are eligible to apply for this course or that job. Rarely do the assessed performance in the board examinations exclusively determine and decide selection for admission or job. For that, you must undergo another similarly elaborate rigmarole and qualify the entrance examinations for admission and jobs. When shall we realise that the invention of the entrance, eligibility, and qualifying examinations have rendered the terminal examinations an exercise in futility;  and that too at a huge cost in terms of time, money and convenience. Isn’t it desirable or isn’t it time to reform these terminal examinations to the teacher-based and school-supervised comprehensive continuous internal assessment? – an idea that has been in discussion for decades.

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Indeed, this might cause gradeflation (grade inflation), which has, in any case, been happening lately. It is common knowledge, that 90 percent today is regarded no better than 50 percent of the yesteryears. We also can’t deny the inherent danger of vitiating the evaluation process, because of a wide variety of potent factors including but not limited to corruption, favouritism, and revenge. However, statistical quality control techniques could be used to minimise such threats. Objectivity could also be ensured by resorting to a comprehensive matrix-based evaluation wherein the performance of students is captured on a range of parameters reflecting their engagements across curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular activities. They would graduate from their schools rather than a board, which will, in fact, motivate schools to build their credibility over a period of time.

Objectivity can be ensured through comprehensive matrix-based evaluation wherein the performance of students is captured on a range of parameters.

We have also been somewhat different about the possibilities that the technology offers for teaching, examination, and evaluation. We are okay with the possibilities of using a technology-mediated teaching-learning process. The learning management systems and a wide variety of information communication tools and platforms have come in very handy to continue the teaching-learning processes remotely. Even before the onset of COVID, students were being encouraged to blended learning by taking courses offered by Swayam or many other MOOCs platforms. Such an extensive technology integration, notwithstanding, we are still recalcitrant about using it for the examination and evaluation processes.

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Thus, it is okay to learn through MOOCs but your qualification can be certified only if you appear and qualify in an ‘in-person’, ‘face-to-face’, ‘human-supervised’ and a ‘tutor-invigilated’ examination conducted for the purpose, even though online. A technologically proctored examination is still regarded inferior to the conventional manpower-based invigilation. Online examinations have, thus, in no way obviated the need for elaborate logistical requirements. It has, rather, made it more complicated. Earlier you needed only physical space and manpower. Now in addition to these two, you also need technological devices, network, and connectivity as well.

A technologically proctored examination is still regarded inferior to the conventional manpower-based invigilation.

What further constrains the use of technology is a widely held belief that all students of a class must write their exam of a subject simultaneously in one go and at the same time. We have been recalcitrant in exploiting the possibilities that the present-day technology offers in conducting examinations in several batches over a period of time with as much, if not better,  reliability and consistency that the one go format offers. And, mind you, the technology today also offers a fairly dependable opportunity for machine-based evaluation of not only the multiple-choice, objective-type, and short-answer type questions but also the full-length essay type questions as well.

A little rethinking about the way we see examinations and a little change in our approach to the way we conduct examinations presently may not only drastically reduce the infrastructural constraints but would also transform the nightmarish exercise into a much more easily manageable for the organisers and a far more convenient, if not a pleasurable experience, for those at the receiving end. 

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Technology today also offers a fairly dependable opportunity for machine-based evaluation of not only the multiple-choice, objective-type, and short-answer type questions but also the full-length essay type questions as well.

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As regards the current year, the matter has been taken at the highest level and various stakeholders have come on board with their preferences. Understandably, it is far more difficult to arrive at a decision this year than the last year, simply because the students then had been in their school for a significant part of their programme and had generally been assessed through the continuous internal assessment process. They were, thus, better prepared and also less scared to appear in the examination.

This year, the situation is drastically different. They have been off their campuses for the whole academic session and had either been self-learning or learning remotely. The internal assessments too happened remotely and, in the absence of a tried and tested methodology, they might be seriously compromised.  Chances are that people with means might have learnt better than those in the rural, remote and disadvantaged districts. The worst affected might be those with limited or no means. The pandemic situation too has been quite frightening this time. This indeed limits the choices to a compromised solution – a truncated examination, sufficiently delayed to allay the imminent threat of the pandemic. Whatever is decided by or for the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), most state boards are likely to follow the suit.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are of the author solely. TheRise.co.in neither endorses nor is responsible for them.

About the author

Dr. Furqan Qamar is the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Rajasthan and Central University of Himachal Pradesh. He has been the Secretary-General of the Association of Indian Universities and Director of CMS, JMI, New Delhi. Dr. Qamar is currently the Professor of Management at the Centre for Management Studies (CMS), Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), New Delhi.


Furqan Qamar

Dr. Furqan Qamar is the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Rajasthan and Central University of Himachal Pradesh. He has been the Secretary-General of the Association of Indian Universities and Director of CMS, JMI, New Delhi. Dr. Qamar is currently the Professor of Management at the Centre for Management Studies (CMS), Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), New Delhi.

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