CUET. A WAKE-UP SLAP
There is a sudden, shocked stirring in the space of high school education. Universities are going to use the CUET (Common University Entrance Test) and disregard the golden standard of board examination marks and the holy grail of ‘cut offs’.
CUET is required for undergraduate admission to any of the country’s central institutions by the University Grants Commission (UGC). The National Testing Agency will administer the exam in 2022
Irrespective of which side of the fence you are on – for the CUET or against – you can’t help but admit the elimination of the board marks as all-important is self-inflicted. The writing was clearly on the wall the moment the cut-offs turned to absurdity and one-upmanship of the disparate boards in the country: whose candidates could score 100% or the closest to it? It was bad enough that courses in colleges listed 100 per cent and above (!) as qualifying marks for admission into coveted courses; it was worse, the numbers in no way reflected the competence, expertise, and knowledge of the students in the subjects in which they scored stratospherically. Education was reduced to digits and meaningless ones at that.
Enter the coaching institutes and tutorials. They added to the offence by tom-tomming numbers their students scored. Schools fell between stools – should they develop life skills, co-curricular interests, or get the numbers for what began counting as ‘academic’ success?
Many schools did none of these creditably. Many schools lost sight of the vision of ‘true’ education in this grotesque rat race. Many schools battled mediocrity, for in the whole scheme of things as it developed, teaching outside schools became more lucrative. The numbers game took away the best teachers from what, in principle are the portals of learning. Schools, teachers, institutes lost sight of ‘education’ and ‘wisdom’ – financial need beckoned individuals; ‘result-oriented’ teaching spawned a myopic system; schools squeezed faculty to the last rupee of the salary in the name of holistic teaching, burdening academicians with tasks that compromised their true calling and duty of updating knowledge and expertise. This vicious cycle of a cat going in circles trying to catch its tail brought ‘success’ but no fulfilment.
Will schools become redundant?
Will the boards assessing age and grade-appropriate knowledge and subject skills be looked at askance? I’m afraid so. Unless primary and secondary education makes itself relevant, truly relevant. For years our students have equated education with marks. If the significance of marks is detached from a level of education, these very same students will cease to see that level as something that matters. Scores are important in assessment but as a tool, not as an end. And learning in the formative years, so crucial, has to go back to that understanding. Schools and their forms of assessment can never be purposeless, but they have to redefine themselves to impart true subject knowledge and skills. There is no use inking 90 per cent on the project of a student who knows little about methods of library research and the dangers of plagiarism. Of what use is the 100 per cent in history or political science if a student cannot sustain a simple conversation on current affairs or gain a perspective on where the world is heading for his or her generation? What is functional grammar in any language if its learner cannot string a correct or effective sentence in daily communication outside the standardized grammar texts?
Entrance exams for undergraduate levels will not happen in a vacuum. They will be based on concepts and prowess picked up through early, formative and high school education. Building blocks can be placed only in these years. Hence the importance of schooling, which should be true to core academics and skills in basic foundational disciplines imparted within and outside classrooms, linking them to life skills rather than merely numbers.
The end aim of a school goes beyond getting its graduates into colleges; it sets the direction for handling life. For CUET or any other examination, college and university, concepts and abilities taught and honed in schools will and should matter. Tutorials should stop being breeding grounds for mass patchiness disguised in numbers. Schools and tutorials could function supportively, not antagonistically. The latter step in only where there is need for extra support: to raise levels of those struggling in larger classrooms, to see to the needs of inordinately gifted children being forced to restrain themselves in a larger group, for greater insight into chosen subjects of interest to children that for practical reasons cannot be addressed in schools. By its very nature, such intervention is select, limited in numbers and duration, concentrated and specialized.
Can one size fit all?
The two learning environments should work at seeking a balance. Today, we have students standing at two extreme ends of the spectrum – excellence in chosen fields and blankness in most others. A brilliant CA may have no concept of the philosophy of ethics. Today, we also tend to find a mix that suits most – the average – and make everyone gravitate there. It is practical, but in the long run, the entire social denominator becomes mass average. A keen literary potential is sacrificed to ten simple short stories and ten uncomplicated poems over two years in high school because the mix suits most. Assessments rarely reward the brilliant, devoted as they are to making the average feel less poorly about themselves and justifying evaluation towards that end. Education cannot be one size fits all. To be successful, teaching has to take variations in aptitudes and capabilities into account and yet provide as wide a foundation as it can.
Probably we need to go back to the drawing board of attitude. Appreciation of knowledge, respect for discipline and disciplines, modesty, humility, actual substance and not mere show of it.
A Model United Nations is not all about wearing two-piece suits to school instead of uniforms. It should be about gaining an understanding of our world, its issues, applying minds to resolution – things that stay with you long after the closing ceremony and certificates to add to a resume that plant a germ in mind. Accounting as an academic discipline counts for professional aims. Still, it also matters that we have a basic understanding of income and expenditure to live a life of financial common sense. No knowledge is irrelevant, but the acceptance has to be there of academics, knowledge and the consequent wisdom and skills. It’s time we re-orient ourselves to qualities and use quantities as a medium where required so that our children are armed for not only entrance exams in concepts and study methods but also for life in attitudes and openness to true knowledge and ability.
Trivikrama Kumari Jamwal
The writer loves her identity as a parent – a parent of two children so far and now of a third (her delightfully charming daughter-in-law.) She is also a wife and pet parent, and sometimes puts pen to paper or teaches young minds for the sheer love of writing and teaching.
So agree with you on this