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Should we be worried or celebrate 99%?

By Ekta Kumar

Records keep getting broken year on year, but its time to ask - what are these marks really worth.

Once upon a time a 90 per cent would get you a solid pat on the back, congratulatory messages in your inbox and lots of wah-wah's. Not anymore. When it comes to class X and XII board results, a 90 per cent elicits a feeble 'oh...' It's just not good enough anymore.

Should we be worried or celebrate 99%?

CBSE results were declared a few days ago, 2.25 lakh students scored above 90 per cent and over 57,000 crossed the 95 mark. Compared to just 4 toppers last year, this year 13 students scrambled to the numero uno position with 499 out of 500. The results get better and better each year, and every announcement is met with a resounding applause. Records are broken, pictures of young, beaming faces flood social media accounts, twitterrati goes into an overdrive, and a chosen few make it to the front pages of newspapers, posing with their proud proud parents, and doling advice to those whose turn is yet to come. I don't want to spoil the party but perhaps it is time to stop and think - what are these marks really worth.

It's really no surprise that the cut-off for admissions to colleges are inching upwards. What is the difference between say 94 and 95 per cent. Who is to judge capability based on the difference of a percent. But the competition for seats is now down to fractions. You'd need 98.75 per cent for a BA programme at Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) and 98 per cent for economics at Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) and St. Stephens cut off in the recent past was 99.25 per cent - Obviously 90 per cent is good, but certainly not enough to impress.

22 students from Telangana committed suicide. A topper who made 499/500, actually said she regrets missing out on one mark, as she got only 99 per cent in English - are we not setting up unrealistic expectations in young minds? Indian parents, imposing their own ambitions and pressures on their kid, don't make it any easier. Nothing will ever be enough. Despite spectacular scores, the fact is many of them probably won't make it to the top colleges, will fail competitive exams and will be forced to embark on career paths different from what they really want. High marks do not guarantee an easier life. As per Niti Aayog, 53 per cent of those passing out from India's higher education institutes are unemployable. What can explain the sudden fall in standards from class XII to passing out from college? It is absurd.

So what explains this dizzying trend of inflated marks? It is not that the quality of students is drastically improving, girls and boys are not suddenly getting smarter or brighter, it is not that teachers or the education system is getting better year on year. So what is pushing this graph to keep climbing? in the middle of all the celebrations, perhaps it is time to pause and think if there is a deeper malaise that needs to be addressed.

Moderation policy or grace marks is a controversial issue that keeps coming up. Although in 2017, the HRD minister Prakash Javadekar had announced that 32 boards (including CBSE) would stop inflating scores to show better results, this year the menace seems to be back. If you plot the marks obtained (0-100) against the number of students on a graph, you would see a big cluster around 95 per cent. Standardisation leads to an abnormal spike in marks. It is an unfair process, and if this unhealthy competition among boards is allowed to continue, the meaningless marking system will only deteriorate.

The format of the question paper has also changed over the years. It is now an objective style questionnaire with multiple choices, that demands straight short answers. This encourages rote learning, awarding marks for memorising the right reply and stifling creativity and original thought. Objective type of questions leave no room for deep learning or reasoning. Scoring full marks in science and mathematics is still understandable, as 2 + 2 = 4 always. But how can you get full marks for literature? Subjective answers demand imagination, communication and free thinking. Are we even beginning to judge and reward that?

The good news is that we are a young nation, with thousands of bright young minds eager to learn and strive to achieve. In the long run we need them to be unafraid to ask questions, to think and reason, debate and dream. We need to reform the education system, what are we teaching them, how are we judging them, and the calibre of people responsible of assessing them. Toppers make headlines, but we need more than that. For India to truly prosper we need more thinkers, researchers, innovators, scientists, designers, intellectuals and artists - and for that we need to start early. Education is the key to shaping the next generation.

(Ekta is a columnist and a writer. She represents India on multiple forums in the European Union on human right campaigns, gender related issues and is working closely with the EU to strengthen ties between the two countries. She is also a Chartered Accountant and an MBA from IIM Calcutta)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of OneIndia and OneIndia does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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