By Manish Sisodia

(This article first appeared in the Hindustan Times on 3rd August, 2017.)

In my experience as Delhi’s education minister, I have come to realise that despite many attempts by successive governments, they have not really been able to shape society. The Chief Minister’s Office or the Prime Minister’s Office does not determine the direction our society moves in, even if it wants to. What is really influencing our behaviour and attitudes is school education. The kind of education our children receive in the classroom goes a long way in what kind of human beings they become. It moulds their sensibilities and develops the extent of their ability to think for themselves.

The quality of school education exercises enormous control over society. So what determines what goes on in a classroom? The teaching processes in the classroom, whether we like it or not, are determined by the nature of exams and assessments.

I have come to realise that despite many attempts by successive governments, they have not really been able to shape society. The Chief Minister’s Office or the Prime Minister’s Office does not determine the direction our society moves in, even if it wants to.

An example of this is the chapter on the persecution of Dalits taught to Class VII children. An excerpt of Dalit literary great Om Prakash Valmiki’s iconic autobiography Joothan is a part of NCERT’s Class VII social science textbook. Introduced with the objective of educating children about the horrors of untouchability in India, the chapter can potentially play a role in sensitising children to caste-based discrimination in society. But it fails at doing so because of how examination questions are framed on the chapter. ‘Who is the author of the book Joothan?’ or ‘Which book did Om Prakash Valmiki author?’ are questions that do not serve the purpose of this chapter. However, since they are routinely asked in examinations, this chapter often becomes an exercise in rote memorisation of names and characters.

Classrooms, curricula, learning outcomes have all evolved over time. But the relative stagnation in examination patterns has induced inertia in the system. Teachers are not incentivised to adapt to the changing needs of society because that would not help children be successful in traditional examinations, and therefore reflect poorly on the teacher’s performance.

Merely pushing schools to focus on learning outcomes will not help. There is a need to align examination papers with learning outcomes. At the highest levels, we must begin to scrutinise every question of every examination from the prism of learning outcomes. If assessments do not test the learning levels of children, then they have no relevance. The continued stress on rote memorisation to perform well in examinations is creating memorisation machines, but not informed citizens. Despite examinations being important milestones in children’s lives, they are perceived as frightening events. If examinations had been about assessing learning levels instead of memory, much of this fear would not exist. Indian schools push children to study under pressure and fear of failure. This is what makes us a society that can only function when there is a fear of failure. An overhaul in our examinations will build a citizenry that is more confident and responsible.

Whatever we have achieved as a society is thanks to education. A few centuries ago, untouchability and slavery were defining characteristics of society. If we have come so far as to criminalise both these acts, it is the success of our classrooms. Each time we collectively condemn instances of restricting entry to temples for certain people, it is an advancement that is an achievement of our school education. At the same time, the fact that religious strife and caste-based violence continue to plague our society shows we clearly have a long way to go. Reforming education is the key to fixing many societal issues. And reforming examinations will help us provide a perfect path to achieve the goals of education reform.

If we begin to go beyond posing questions on the name of the author of Joothan, we will find that a lot of caste-related prejudices and misconceptions will be eliminated among children very early in their lives. Examinations will help bridge the divide between education and the requirements of society, and we must seize this opportunity. Classrooms hold the key to our society; and assessment patterns hold the key to our classrooms. Therefore, it is time to fundamentally rethink our assessment systems in schools.

Manish Sisodia is Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister, Delhi.

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Akshay Marathe

4 Comments

    • John Ferns

      EDUCATION REFORM – 1
      From 1 To 5 Std/Class (PRIMARY)
      (1) There must be only 5 Subjects (English, Hindi & State Language, Maths & Social/Moral Studies).
      (2) There must be only 2 Exams (First Term & Final Term) and there must be no any exam or test in between but only activities (Sports, Singing, Dancing, Music, Drawing, Craft, etc).

      From 6 To 10 Std/Class (SECONDARY)
      (1) There must be only 10 Subjects (Literature (English/Optional Language), Maths, Social/Moral Studies, Science, Environmental Studies (Preserving Nature/Weather Change), History, Geography, Physics, Biology & Chemistry).
      (2) There must be 3 Exams (First Term, Second Term & Final Term) and there must be no any test in between but only activities (Sports, Singing, Dancing, Music, Drawing, Craft, etc).

      EDUCATION REFORM – 2
      School should make Good Human Beings and Colleges/Institutes should make Good Professionals. Both will make this world a better place to live in.

      EDUCATION REFORM – 3
      Today’s Education System Makes Professionals but Not Humans!
      Today’s Education System Teaches how to make money but not to respect each other’s religion!
      Education System must focus on making Good Human Beings along with making Professionals, So that this World will be better place to live in.
      Today’s Education System only focus on Studies and how to become rich but does not focus on Preserving Nature, Good Manners, Not to Steal, not to keep eye on others property, to fear God, respect Elders, not to do Corruption, not to interfere in others business, not to say any bad things of other religion, respect all Religion, etc.

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    • P K Sengupta

      Mr. Sisodia has made a few valid comments and certainly we should spend effort in formulating and measuring learning outcomes. However since he is a minister of education, we would be pleased to learn what his govt. and ministry has done in Delhi. We know that the GoI has done nothing since early 90’s to define one. Mr. TSR Subramaniam and a small team drafted a policy which Ms. Irani, the erstwhile HRD Minister found unacceptable. So our kids remain shackled to an outdated education framework. We would welcome thoughts from Mr. Sisodia about a proper education policy

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    • vinod kumar ailawadi

      It is contrary to your efforts, that every child must get a good teacher, that he passes his examination.

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    • Saurabh Sinha

      I fully endorse the Hon’ble Ministers views that education should not be based on rote learning but learning outcomes. A child’s learning abilities should be based and assessed on his inclination towards subjects and their performance. Till Class VIII all subjects should be compulsory and later the child must be given a choice to opt for subjects of his choice for appearing in High School Examination and onwards. The assessment should be done by the child’s performance in subjects by the teachers and individual interaction between the teacher and the child. Continuing higher education in subjects of interest will remove fear of education from the mind of the child. The scope and horizon of employment opportunities for children from non science backgrounds should be expanded. This will prevent children from opting only one stream after assessing the career opportunities linked/associated with it. It has often been observed that children do not give the requisite amount of attention and seriousness to value based education or moral science. At the school level the perception regarding this subject is being too idealistic and away from practicality. This needs to be changed. Children should understand that school education lays the foundation for becoming a good citizen. Habits inculcated from childhood are deeply rooted and it becomes very difficult to change them as youth or adult. Therefore due attention should be given to moral science in school by teachers and outside by parents.

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