Should One Board Exam Judge 13 Years Of Schooling ?

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New Delhi, Mar 17 (UNI) Members alarmed today over students resorting to suicide in the face of exam stress were told in Parliament that the authorities were switching to a system that tests learning-- not ''rote'' skills.

But the government clarification about changes being brought since the introduction of a new National Curriculum Framework prepared in 2005 did not appear to satisfy a Member who had raised the issue.

''We went through the answers,'' Priya Dutt told UNI afterwards, adding that the ''2005 Framework looks nice on paper, but clearly has not been put into effect. Why else are suicides continuing.'' Listing steps taken, Minister of State for Human Resource Development Mohammed Ali Ashraf Fatmi earlier told Lok Sabha they included ''ensuring that learning is shifted away from rote methods.'' Fatmi said steps were also being taken to enrich curricula to make learning non-'textbook-centric' and examinations ''more flexible'' and meshed into classroom life.

The HRD MoS was replying in the Lok Sabha following a call attention motion by Congress members Dutt and Sandeep Dikshit.

Indian newspapers in recent months have published accounts of students driven to suicide by exam-related stress. On a typical day last week-- March 13-- six students reportedly took their own lives.

Fatmi described changes being brought since the introduction of the 2005 Framework, whose guiding principles were: -- Connecting knowledge to life outside school; -- Shifting learning away from rote methods; -- Enriching curriculum for children's overall, non-textbook centric development; and -- Making examinations more flexible and integrated into classroom life.

He said new curricula, syllabi and textbooks prepared by the National Council of Education Research and Training ''are in the right direction''-- cutting curricular burden ''making learning child friendly.'' Among other things, the framework entails ''continuous pupil assessment and feedback,'' a better ''learning environment'' and inculcating such values as equality, diversity and dignity.

He said the 2005 Framework also recommended psychological counselling and career guidance as ''critical tools.'' Dutt said the fact that the government statement mentioned helpline and counselling ''shows it is aware of stress problems students face. The question is why is the issue not being faced squarely.'' ''It's a shame that after 13 years of gruelling, strenuous education, a student's fate is dependent on that one Board exam or two which may make or mar his or her future.'' She said, ''What is needed is an indepth discussion and taking the opinion or all stakeholders on how to go about it.'' The Minister told members that the 2005 Framework ''has been implemented in all'' schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education.

He said the Board ''has already implemented several reforms related to curriculum and examinations.'' These included: -- Putting together an examination system that tests more of conceptual knowledge and understanding rather than rote memory; -- Introducing continuous and comprehensive evaluation with marks assigned for internal assessment; -- Abolishing home work for classes I-V; -- Giving X and XII class examinees 15 extra minutes to read question papers; -- Setting up a help-line and making available sample question papers; and -- Letting students take compartmental examination immediately after results are declared.

He said all States and State Examination Boards were expected to act on the recommendations and ''many of them have already done so.'' Fatmi said ''societal, parental and peer pressure are also responsible for increase of stress among the school children, particularly as they have to compete for the few places available in premium academic institutions.'' He spoke of adolescence and consequent changes in body and mind contributing ''to stress'' and said school teachers were being trained to act as part-time counsellors.

Fatmi said the Ministry has advised all State governments to ban corporal punishment in schools and made physical education, sports and yoga compulsory in all CBSE-affiliated schools.

He ''expected'' that adoption of the 2005 Framework ''in letter and spirit would reduce the burden on the children and provide them a healthy environment.'' He stressed that ''all'' stakeholders-- parents, teachers, academicians, teacher trainers and society at large-- ''have a role to play in providing such a healthy environment to the children in schools.'' UNI MJ RP BST1943

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