The Examination Anomaly

Sometimes we do not realise that we are giving ourselves away, innocently by making small requests. We came across one such situation, strangely enough from a poem written by a Grade 7 student, somewhere in India.

Before COVID 19

A curious wondering husband spoke to his dear wife,
`You want to attend a family function, dear one?
You know Rahul’s exams are not yet done,
He needs them to prepare for his life!’

The wife responded with sudden realisation
`My God! I forgot that it is his examination
Something he just cannot miss
We need to ensure he is close to his dreams!’

After COVID 19

A curious wondering husband spoke to his dear wife,
`You want to attend a family function, dear one?
You know Rahul’s exams are not yet done,
He needs them to prepare for his life!’

The wife responded with sudden surprise
`Dear husband, now he can take it online!
Thanks to COVID 19, online is the current byline!’
The husband smiled, `Ah yes, I do not realise!’

An anonymous WhatsApp communication said it all. The examination that used to be the single most sacred event in a student’s life has been laid bare and ripped off of the sanctity that it used to possess. Earlier every household used to revolve around the examination schedule of the children. It was common to see entire families not watching TV, not attending weddings because of their child’s examination. School too would be unbending when it came to promotion of students if they miss key examinations. Special permissions were sought even for a Unit Test to be missed and teachers would need senior school authorities’ sanctions to allow that.

We built a fortress around this system by making annual plans and factoring in time for revisions. They were checked and vetted by senior authorities and that plan was the bible for many teachers. There were mock examinations that gave students a real feel and they still are widely practised. Come what may, the teaching community refused to sacrifice the mock examinations as it was seen to build the requisite discipline in children. Students had to cross all of this to conquer the Board Examinations.

However, COVID seems to have changed all that. In the new order of things, the examination seems the least important at least superficially. Parents seem ready to give the exam dates a miss because they feel children can take it online. So even when the physical school has opened in many parts, doing the test online is considered normal. Students who sit in class to study and learn suddenly turn truant and apply to take examinations online. Some look at their friends doing it and decide to join the bandwagon halfway through. Harassed teachers are left feeling stumped and helpless.

How do schools view it? Coping with remote learning was one thing and coping with a hybrid system, partly online and partly physical classrooms is another. With a demand for more manpower, the school system is getting more and more strained. Secondly, an online examination in their eyes and in the perspective of an authority like the university is suspect, not validated at all.

Therefore, it undercuts the sanctity of the examination even while it is treated as the most important event in a student’s life. On the one hand the student’s entire life is based on the examination, while the online option takes the examination for granted. Why does this anomaly occur? Should it not be that this option has made life easier for all and students should be able to take the examination from anywhere? The answers run deep.

It is not so much the examination per se that mattered to most. It is the marks that were of bigger significance. So get those darned marks at any cost. So it was common to see students fudging their paper with googled and plagiarised answers. Students who hardly attended classes started scoring high grades but those who were conscientious and regular paid the price for their honesty. This was the most common discussion among school authorities on the way out. Clearly society has not gained the required value that many demand from schools.

Despite all these issues, why do we attach so much value to examinations? As an educationist I cannot but wonder what these examinations are achieving. Would it be better to scrap them altogether? But I know for a fact that we cannot do it without having an alternative system to assess students. Perhaps the portfolio method is better? From the looks of it, the entire examination juggernaut seems to be drifting towards that system. It will have all the pains of uncertainty as we saw recently, when we had to submit the school based assessment marks instead of the Board examination. There is no one certain answer to this, but for sure we need to build better value systems.

Mrs. Nithya Sundaram – Academic Director, CS Academy Schools