Stop playing with their lives

There is a battle raging in our capital city. It concerns the debate between the three year BA course versus the four year one introduced last year. It seems that one is set to revert to the good old 3 year BA course we all passed! One wonders why the controversial four year programme was ever launched. What is worrying is that those who sit in close offices and come up with such drastic changes do not realise that they are playing with young lives where a year can mean a lifetime and a percentile can make all the difference between pursuing your dream or giving it up altogether. It does seem a bit absurd that a mere 1% in a unrelated subject is what it could take to make you a doctor or a vet! I must admit that I have not been following thus polemic as I am more concerned about the percentile in school that can open or a shut a door.

Call is synchronicity or serendipity but I was forwarded a mail by a friend who 'introduced' me to the horror of the state run school system when I was a greenhorn and is herself a great educationist with her heart at the right place. This mail is written by the principal of a known public school and addressed to the Board of Secondary Education, the supreme body who decides what the curricula should or should not include. ( I am pasting the letter below my rants for those who would want to get first hand knowledge of how those in power play with the lives of voiceless children.)

The letter is about the sporadic changes that occur in the curriculum and its effects of students and teachers. I was particularly concerned by this sentence: Most disturbing of all these changes is the habit lately in the CBSE to introduce changes in the middle and even late into the academic year. The letter outlines the absurdity of the whole approach that seems to be the bane of our land, where we are always putting the cart before the horse! But here the story is far more perilous because adults re playing with children's dreams and aspirations. Sitting in the comfort of an air conditioned conference room, men and women whose combined degrees and certificates would fill umpteen walls and whose combined ages would run into centuries, decide the fate of millions of children as different as chalk and cheese: some belong to erudite homes and have been fed books with bottles, others to educated ones and yet others to homes where the only written word is the label on a purchased item. And that is not all, the decisions this hallowed men and women make has to be implemented but teachers as varied as the one who hold several degrees in education from Ivy colleges while others have failed the basic teacher tests conducted in the country. But you do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand the absurdity of introducing changes in the middle or even the end of the academic year, something that you will realise, if you read the letter pasted below, seems to have become the rule rather than the exception. Any change needs to be piloted, fine-tuned, retested and then fully implemented. When you change the curricula you need to first, if not discuss it with stakeholders, train those who will need to teach the changed curricula.

It seems that a 'novel' was withdrawn in October 2013 for the exam in March 2014! The most controversial issue seems to be the PSA (not the prostate test) - Problem Solving Assessment and the Open Text Book Assessment! The letter explains these points in a pertinent manner but just the names of these Assessments send chills down my spine when I think of my project why children and their Government school teachers. To change from learning by rote underlined answers that you barely comprehend, I cannot begin to imagine what you would do in an open book exam or a problem solving assignment. I cannot visualise the teachers doing it, let alone the poor kids.

The question one has to ask is whether the curriculum is for every child born in this land or for the chosen few! Another tale of two Indias I guess or a clever way of keeping a large chunk of kids, those born on the wrong side of the divide, away from higher education and plum jobs.

True I would be the first one to hail these changes were they brought about in the right manner: pilots and training the trainees. What would happen though is that most of the trainees would fail!

If you take time to read the letter copied below you will see the absurdity of how curricula are thrown out of a magician's hat to dazzle god knows who, but are not connected to the reality of the situation on the ground. So you come up with an open book examination option not thinking of the child in a slum who goes to an overcrowded school where teachers wield the rod with impunity and have no time to 'impart' knowledge. They problem solving is the use of their voice or their stick. Maybe before thinking of any change at all, those in the air conditioned rooms should have a good look at every nook and corner of education.

But again maybe this is all part of some devious agendas or hidden policies where poverty and illiteracy have a critical role to play.

I would simply urge those in power to STOP PLAYING WITH THE LIVES OF INNOCENT CHILDREN.

Maybe our new Minister will hear this deafening cry!

The Chairman,
Central Board of Secondary Education
Preet Vihar
New Delhi

Dear Mr. Joshi,

 Thank you so much for agreeing to meet me. In this letter to you I would particularly like to bring up some path changing innovations that the CBSE has introduced in the last six years or so that have long been a matter of concern to educators.  Most disturbing of all these changes is the habit lately in the CBSE to introduce changes in the middle and even late into the academic year.

 The CCE is a prime example of a mid year introduction, other examples being the time of introduction of the PSA and the OTBA. Apart from these a) the novel for class xii English Course A was withdrawn in Oct of 2013 for the exam to be taken in March 2014. b) the examination specification for present class x English Course – A paper has been changed in June 2014 for the exam to be held in march 2015. c) the text book for Functional English  for examination 2015 is yet to come out.

 I think it is important to say at the outset that the CCE, Problem Solving Assessment and the Open Text Book Assessment are excellent ideas in themselves; it is the modality of introduction, understanding and grading of the two that is being raised for discussion here.

 Below point wise are areas in the PSA that are controversial and need to be immediately addressed.

 A.1. In the normal practice a curriculum is announced at least a year, if not two, before the commencement of the session. Alterations to the curriculum are not done in the middle of the implementation of the curriculum. 

The Problem Solving Assessment (PSA) was announced by the CBSE for classes IX & XI in August and was implemented in January, 2013 of the academic year 2012-13. The introduction of Problem Solving assessment was done after the curriculum was announced in the middle of the session in August of 2012.

A.2 Even though the paper was made up of three parts Language Conventions, Quantitative reasoning and Qualitative reasoning, marks were given to students in four subjects, English / Hindi, 
Science, Mathematics and Social Science. There apparently seems to be little logical or scientific basis for this.

 A.3. A single score was awarded for PSA and schools were instructed through your various circular (latest dated  3rd Feb 2014)  to replace the FA4 scores  with the PSA score. As you know Formative 
assessment includes a variety of evaluation methods such as unit tests, quizzes, debates, assignments, projects etc. These various points and methods of assessment, which is the hallmark of CCE, attempt to evaluate students holistically and continually. The PSA being a single examination with 60 questions can in no way be a meaningful substitute for the FA4. PSA is neither tuned to FA nor academically or logically can be tuned to the same, as the cognitive and decision-making skills required for them are more relevant to Summative assessment. Inclusion of PSA as a substitute to the FA4 in class 9 is basically against the core philosophy of the CCE.

 A.4 The decision to carry over the marks of the performance of class IX in PSA to class X is unscientific. In terms of space, learning experiences, the situations are entirely different and super imposing the same has no logical basis. The performance profile of the students in class 
10 will be totally different if taken again. Thus repeating marks obtained in class IX in class X lacks a sense of relevance, proportionality and context.

 A.5.The questions on Quantitative reasoning in the PSA paper have to be answered even by those students who are differentially abled and have been given exemption from mathematics. There is neither exemption nor any alternative for them. Thus, they are put into an unfair assessment. The injustice is doubled by the fact that the same marks are repeated over two years in their report card. This decision of CBSE puts back reforms for inclusion, done to facilitate these students, by over a 

 A.6. Any change in curriculum or assessment patterns are implemented only after the stakeholders in the system are briefed adequately and trained fully so that the spirit of such a change is meaningful and effective. Introduction of changes without training of the teachers affects a generation of students. In the introduction of PSA, since the schools were not informed early enough the teachers were not appropriately trained .  

 A.7.The curriculum has three important components - content, pedagogy and assessment. It is a holistic domain and any piecemeal alternations in one without addressing the other parts leads to confusion. The introduction of PSA called for appropriate pedagogical interventions in the classroom so that the shift in areas of assessment could be internalized. This was especially relevant since both teachers and students are conditioned with years of content-based assessment. In this case, neither teachers nor students were exposed to, nor given adequate resources, nor time and wherewithal to understand or appreciate the introduction of PSA.

 A.8. PSA calls for relevant analytical and critical thinking skills. The solutions to a given problem have to be uniform, credible, valid and reliable. It should not lead to answers which could be based on perceptions and which would not be considered reliable. Many questions in the PSA paper given in early 2013, and whose marks figure in the report card of 2014 batch of class x, can have multiple answers thereby challenging the validity and reliability of the paper.

 A.9. The whole edifice of the PSA appears to have been designed keeping the students of urban and high profile schools, where students have a wider exposure to interdisciplinary skills. Thus it creates an in built disparity between urban and rural children.

We strongly believe that the PSA cannot be a substitute to FA4, which must be conducted separately in both classes. The PSA exam may be conducted additionally and the score may be recorded in the CCE report card as PSA instead of the current practice of correlating the score with the various subjects.  Students of class x (2014) cannot be given grades in subjects when they haven't been tested for the same. They cannot be tested for one thing and given grades for something else. They cannot be given grades that are not a reflection of their ability in that subject.The Board should defer continuation of PSA until such time there is clarity, better awareness, appropriate pedagogy in place, teachers/schools are in a position to prepare their students to meet the newer challenges and the needs of the differentially abled have been taken into consideration in the scheme of examinations with regard to PSA.

Given below are some of our observations regarding OTBA

 B. 1. In a similar manner, the CBSE announced, mid-term that students of classes ix and xi will be required to take an Open Text Book Assessment. The examination was to be a case study, which would replace 20 marks of each subject paper. This has subsequently been reduced to 10 marks. Since then the CBSE has  sent out case studies for all four subjects for class ix and for selected         subjects in class xi. Schools have been asked to print and give them to the children both before for study and again during the examination.

 B.2. Please refer to your circular of 31st May 2013 on the OTBA. The circular claims that the OTBA will have questions based on higher order thinking skills, while in actuality it is just another comprehension paper.

B.3. 10 marks of all main subjects have been replaced with the OTBA score.  Students are now required to study the OTBA passages given. No part of the existing syllabus has been reduced to accommodate this extra work.

B.4. Extra time has been given for the OTB so that the duration of the examination now stands at 3.5-4 hours.  Children who are differently abled usually get an hour of extra time. Consequently the time duration of children with special needs to complete a paper will be approximately 5 hours. This as you will agree is not a desirable situation.

C.1. Under the CCE a student is allowed to transfer points that he/she has got to another subject where she/he would like an improvement. The CBSE requirement to transfer points accrued in non-scholastic areas to scholastic areas is a matter of concern. While it is laudable that CBSE would like to give the co-scholastic areas greater importance, the transfer of points accrued under non scholastic to marks in scholastic lacks validity and reliability and has led to lowering of the high standards set by the CBSE.

 I would be grateful sir, if you could address the points raised in a manner so as to bring relief to not just children of this country but also to the confused teaching community.