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

8 Comments

    • Shubham

      In a way I , agree with the current reforms suggested above but I don’t think that’s going to be enough , if we consider the long run outcomes considering the fact that the society in which we are living belongs to lower developing societies of the world and we are nowhere near being developed. Education is something that binds all of us in the society from a business man who runs a billion worth company to small shopkeeper , to a politician to a 9 to 5 government employee , from students to the Head Principle or Vice-Chancellor of an esteemed university , all have something to get from it . While some want good education of their kids (weather rich or poor) for others its a way of ensuring a secure and stable life for them, while for others its a way in which they earn their living buy passing of the lessons of life that they have earned in theirs.
      The point is I am currently a student and I don’t understand why no one can see that things we are learning are outdated . I mean the things we study about are no doubt are relevant but , it alienates students from the present . It;s not about present , how or what our future looks likes, its more of grasping someone else’s experience for the time being till they become adult and then we expect something of moral learnings from the education system they had. That is something that bugs me a lot. We expect something from students that they never were expected to do and even excel in them. Ans see the brilliance of our students , we even then produce sharpest minds of the entire planet.
      The way i see it education is not just about grabbing something up and then test a bunch of other students to pass in the exam of what someone feel is important for the beautiful journey of life , it should be more of a project where you work on your own case subjects or should I say categories can be decided on what these cases can be and then let students work on their own. Yes let them work on their own teachers just for guidance or help of they ask for (self learning is the best way to learn anything ) and then evaluate the learning based on these case studies , not some standardized exams for all. Each of us are different and we deserve to be happy in our own ways not in a way someone thinks is right or wrong. And at the end , during submission time just let them brief about their cases in the class as their final phase of the class . In this way not only it will cover a wide range of subjects topics and materials, but students will be motivated to work as they have to discover new things. What we can do is distribute the session accordingly instead of Ist Term or 2nd term.

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    • K.Mathur

      One of the ideas would be to allow only such exam questions which ask for long explanations rather than short answers, which can be learned by memory, like describe the intention behind seat reservation for dalits.
      The other idea would to reduce the duration of regular teaching classes, so that learned people from public life could go to the schools and elaborate and discuss their views and ideas with the children in regular school time. The children will get to know real life problems in a relaxed atmosphere and need repeat those ideas and thoughts in any exam.

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    • Sourav

      I think the issue that we all must focus now is to develop critical thinking. Most of our text books are good for providing knowledge but does not have any element of critical thinking. Simply providing information will not help the cause. I hope we become a thinking society rather than mere parrots.

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    • Jitender

      I have been teaching underprivileged students of areas like Shahbad dairy,Rohini sec 26 and 27(resettlement colonies) for last 12 year. Back in 2009-10 there was hardly any student especially a girl student who continued study after 12. But know hundred of girls students are studying in colleges. SOME OF THEM HAVE MADE IT TO COLLEGES LIKE KIRORI MAL and HINDU.
      This Change has come without giving them any homework.I along with some of my students am working as a team to uplift our society.We have come a long way and believe new milestones will be achieved.
      I believe the most important reform required to make our education more effective is to make our teachers responsible towards the society they confine their duties only to the school. The day our teachers begin to realise that deprived students needs special care and love everything will be in place. Teachers must understand they have been doing the most important Job in the country.
      They must understand when society is on decline it is only a GURU like CHANIKYA who can uplift it.

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    • 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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