Time for open book exams
Considering the rising Covid cases, it would be wise not to conduct the examination.
The Class XII examination of CBSE and other boards have been in limbo for the past few weeks. It has thrown lakhs of students and parents into a tizzy. There have been calls for scrapping the board examinations, like how it was done for Class X. Considering the rising Covid cases, it would be wise not to conduct the examination. Postponing the same indefinitely would affect the mental health of the students. While the debate rages on, isn’t it time to radically reimagine and redesign the way examinations are conducted in our country?
We have been conducting the examinations the same way we used to a hundred years ago. A lot of information, primarily outdated, are dumped in textbooks. In a rapidly changing world, the syllabus is changed once in a decade. Students learn lessons by rote, and at the end of the term, they are judged based on their memory skills. The weightage for any creative or analytical thinking is next to nothing. The result is that many students come out of our educational institutions with no skills that would be of any use in their lives. Apart from putting students through the torture of memorising textbook information, it also leads to unhealthy competitions and rat races.
It would have made sense in a different era when information was expensive and inaccessible to memorise facts with the hope of using it some time in life. We live in an Information Age, and everything is available at our fingertips. I remember my maths teacher harassing me to learn the multiplication table. Calculators were a novelty then, but I dared to ask her why I should know the multiplication table when we all would be having calculators soon. The answer she gave is still fresh in my memory even after 40 years. “Do you think you will have a calculator with you every time?” Yes, teacher.
Technology has ensured that most of us have a mobile phone in our hands: a calculator, an encyclopaedia, a thesaurus, and much more. The hours spent memorising the names of the capitals of different nations, rivers flowing through various Indian states, etc, are all wasted. What is there in any textbook that is not available by a single Google search now? All the information in school or college textbooks are redundant and a minor subset of what is available with much less effort. Even the time spent on improving our handwriting has gone to waste. With voice replacing even typing, writing will become like calligraphy, an artistic hobby in a decade or perhaps lesser. But we still torture little kids to improve their handwriting, fully knowing that most of us have not written much with a pen or pencil for years.
Information might have become ubiquitous and cheap, but how to use the information is a skill that requires to be taught. Unfortunately, other than giving redundant information, our education system scantily prepares the students in critical, creative and analytical thinking. The examinations should change to reflect the need of the hour. There is no need to test the memory of any student. We can shift to open-source text. What we would be testing is not the knowledge or information but the skill to use it. Imagine a scenario where the Class XII exam is spread over a week for each subject.
Students can answer any time they want in this period. This would solve the issue of unequal internet connectivity to an extent. And answering kiosks could be set up in bio bubbles for students who do not have access to a laptop or internet. The students can access any source, including their textbooks, the internet etc, to give analytical answers. This would reflect a real-life scenario where no one is expected to memorise solutions but to use all resources available to arrive at answers. One issue with this system is the unequal resources available for students, but that is a problem we face even with the present system.
The students belonging to economically and socially advantageous families enjoy private tuitions and access to more study material when compared to others, even now. A solution could be to have an open-source online library available for free for all students and allow the students to access the same while answering questions. Perhaps, this is the right time to move from a system that rewards memory to one that rewards critical, analytical and creative thinking in students.
Author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy