, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“When I was a child I had the freedom to make my own toys out of trifles and create my own games from imagination. In my happiness my playmates had their full share; in fact the complete enjoyment of my games depended upon their taking part in them. One day, in this paradise of our childhood, entered a temptation from the market world of the adult. A toy bought from an English shop was given to one of our companions; it was perfect, big and wonderfully life-like.He became proud of the toy and less mindful of the game; he kept that expensive thing carefully away from us, glorying in his exclusive possession of it, feeling himself superior to his playmates whose toys were cheap. I am sure if he could have used the modern language of history he would have said that he was more civilised than ourselves to the extent of his owning that ridiculously perfect toy. One thing he failed to realise in his excitement – a fact which at the moment seemed to him insignificant – that this temptation obscured something a great deal more perfect than his toy, the revelation of the perfect child. The toy merely expressed his wealth, but not the child’s creative spirit, not the child’s generous joy in his play, his open invitation to all who were his compeers to his play-world”. – From Civilisation and Progress by Rabindranath Tagore

I dread this time of the year; when the results are out and everybody is calling their relatives to inquire about their children’s marks in order to gauge whether their child is smarter or not. Doesn’t that sound familiar to goings on in all of your homes?! You might be smart, got good grades throughout your school life and just choked during the final board exams when it mattered the most. Sadly, we lived in a time when the state followed the Summative Assessment method when the final terminal examination was the only thing that mattered. Your board exams were something you were reminded about every single day of your school life, however young you were. You didn’t care whether you understood concepts, you just mugged them so that you could vomit the facts during the exam. The better retention, the better you scored.


Since when did the idea of learning become associated with passing exams? When did that become the baseline for assessing that the child has understood everything that they have learnt? You learn 10 chapters in a year, spaced out within 3 terms and there are some questions which you tend to miss out on, either because you didn’t grasp it or because you didn’t have the time. If you were lucky, the question from that chapter was skipped and therefore you ended up doing really well. In the worst case scenario, a lot of questions came from that chapter during your final exams and you bombed the exam.

Is that a fair way of judging whether a child has understood something? Is that the only way to gauge a child’s intellect and challenge his thinking? I have 8 and 9 year old children from my apartment in Chennai attending tuitions because they’re not getting good marks. Their parents are pushing them towards looking at their careers when they’re ruining their childhood for them. Since when did we become so career oriented that we gave children, this burden of learning? Go back to memories of your school days and tell me honestly that you woke up every morning WANTING to go to school. (meeting your classmates was probably the only reason or when you knew you had fun sessions like Singing or Art or Games). Does that ring a bell?

I’m 8 years too late to be posting this but I’m glad that I got a chance to go through the National Curriculum Framework of 2005 when they introduced the CCA scheme in the CBSE system. (CCA – Comprehensive Curricular Assessment) They noted the following points about the then existing system of Summative Assessment and pointed out the flaws as mentioned below:

(a) the school system is characterized by an inflexibility that makes it resistant to change;

(b) learning has become an isolated activity, which does not encourage children to link knowledge with their lives in any organic or vital way

(c) schools promote a regime of thought that discourages creative thinking and insights;

(d) what is presented and transmitted in the name of learning in schools bypasses vital dimensions of the human capacity to create new knowledge;

(e) the “future” of the child has taken centre stage to the near exclusion of the child’s “present”, which is detrimental to the well-being of the child as well as the society and the nation

Based on these points, they devised a curriculum which was fun and activity based and the assessment of these activities was done throughout the year, meaning that summative assessment (terminal examinations) wasn’t the only way to gauge how much a child had learnt and understood. A constant and periodic evaluation or assessment with the introduction of grades instead of marks throughout the year would determine a child’s progress.

Do you remember the smart aleck in your class who was always asking questions and disrupting sessions? You always thought he was such a pain and so did the teachers. They never entertained his questions and slowly, they stopped. The day he/ she stopped asking questions, they stopped learning. I always remember Pink Floyd’s, Another Brick in The Wall when it comes to school because that is the perfect song to describe what we went through in school. We were told to behave ourselves and be disciplined and not ask questions to disrupt the classes. Do you remember being scared to stand up in front of the class in order to ask a question, in fear of the teacher admonishing you or your classmates laughing at you? The schools we went to didn’t create an environment to learn through discovery and experiments but created an atmosphere of fear and anxiety of tests and exams and futures we were 8 years too soon to think about.

What is the first question you ask a child who you meet for the first time? “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The child has been prepared to answer this question because his/her parents have been drilling them about it for the better part of the child’s schooling. The child has an answer ready, “A doctor or an engineer or an IAS Officer probably not even knowing what those professions are.

Our parents did it out of ambition for us and we are doing it for them… sounds plausible enough, right?! Sigh… Before I get deviated, the reason I brought this topic up was because of http://www.firstpost.com/india/cbse-results-two-die-as-family-consumes-poison-after-girl-fails-828849.html. For those of you who aren’t going to take the time to open the link, I’ll give you a summary. A girl from Grade 12 committed suicide because she failed in her 12th board exams. Her brother, who had just given his 10th board exams followed suit because he assumed that he would also fail. Their mother, followed them because she couldn’t live with the shame of her daughter failing. This is an average, everyday INDIAN family…

India, wake up!! Open your eyes to the truth that is out there. Are your children under pressure? Are they scared to go to school because they’re scared of the teachers? Do they have panic attacks? Are you paying attention to what goes on in their school? Make it a point to explain to your children that it’s not the end of the world if they fail.

I work for an NGO which deals with the implementation of CCA in govt. schools across Rajasthan and it makes me proud to say that the children who go to school here, do so happily. I visited a basti (slum) where a mother was quoted saying, “I don’t need to tell my children to go to school. They sometimes forget that Sunday is a holiday and go wait outside their school, waiting for it to open.” If your kids don’t feel the same way, you’re doing it wrong!!

P.S. If you want to read more about NCF 2005,  please click on this link  http://www.ncert.nic.in/rightside/links/pdf/framework/english/nf2005.pdf

 Picture courtesy : http://www.udaipurblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/exam-fever.jpg