The tail that has been wagging the dog called education is the Board Examination. This end-of-school summative public examination, that is taken by a miniscule percentage of students who enrolled in class 1 and managed to stay in school till Grades 10 and then (even less) 12, has been responsible for most of the resistance by teachers and parents, to changing methodology and curriculum.
The National Education Policy (NEP) initially speaks about aligning assessment to learning outcomes, but then takes a bold stand by stating that “The primary purpose of the assessment will indeed be for learning…” (my emphasis). Indeed if that word tells a story, it is that the apex body too knew that assessment was not primarily “for” learning and was failing its students!
The examination has been used by most schools as an instrument of terror. When the Right to Education Act 2009 disallowed the retention of students in the same class, a Principal complained about his inability to fail students so that the others were frightened into studying. I asked him whether he thought those students had taken admission in order to fail and become the symbol of disdain. To his credit, he reflected on my question and responded with “no, they take admission to learn”. This is what the NEP 2020 appears to be saying when it talks about a ‘progress card’ for every student rather than a ‘report card’.
What it also needs to describe, is what repercussions would be felt by a school if students are not seen making progress. Would the school and teachers be viewed as failing its students? Would the school leaders be required to ask their teachers why the students were not learning? How would the “excessive exam coaching and preparation” be removed from the student’s ecosystem if the school is unable to deliver the experiential learning that the NEP 2020 dreams for all students?
Instead of speaking about school accountability, NEP 2020 makes the Board examination ‘easier’ and less ‘high stakes’. The flexibility of ‘level’, readiness, choice, time, types of questions, promise to make the new National Assessment Centre a benign uncle who wants the nation’s young minds to feel secure and uses the State Achievement Survey (SAS) and the (NAS) as validation instruments that will “monitor and improve the school system”. The National Assessment Centre will set the standards, norms and guidelines for student assessment and evaluation, and even has an apt name - PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development).
Then comes the all-important catch: “...any student who has been going to and making a basic effort in a school class will be able to pass and do well in the corresponding subject Board Exam without much additional effort” (NEP 2020, 4.37).
Who determines “basic” and “additional” effort is not clearly stated. It could sound a lot like teachers who exhort their students to “work harder”, assuming that the student’s grades reflect lack of effort on the part of the student, not a lack of understanding. What basic effort can a student be making in a didactic class in which the teacher makes little or no effort to engage students? Just as the examination system has till-date encouraged rote learning, so has the teacher. If students who in the coming years do not make it through the school exams are categorised as “did not make a basic effort”, then the change in assessment would have accomplished very little.
School examinations will be “conducted by the appropriate authority” at the end of classes 3, 5, 8 to enable schools to track and report on their students’ progress. These key-stage assessments will inform the schools, students, teachers, parents whether the expected learning outcomes have been achieved and also help them plan improvement through remediations. The assessments would focus on testing core concepts, HOTS and application of learning in real-life situations.
While this would ensure that there are no surprises at the end of class 10 & 12, the question is whether the tail is truly changing teacher delivery and student engagement and whether it has the capability to wag the dog differently.
10 years ago, the idea of continuous comprehensive evaluation (CCE) was introduced as part of the Right to Education Act 2009. The view that “evaluation should be viewed as a component of the curriculum” and “as a part of the teaching-learning process” was considered revolutionary only because it had consistently been seen as desirable, but never before actually implemented. Unfortunately, the manner of the implementation only served to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that proved why “not failing” students would “not work”. A system built on examination fear as the driving force that would impel students to study and ‘pass’, does not change easily.
The NEP 2020 makes a second attempt to bring back this purpose of assessment in section 4.34. The key words once again are “regular and formative”, “competency-based”, “promotes learning and development” “tests higher-order skills, such as analysis, critical thinking, and conceptual clarity”. School owner Pankaj Bhalla of Little Scholars School, Uttarakhand welcomes the change “...targeting the early stages of development for pre-schoolers, building the right attitude while in the later years of schooling. The student can now channel their intelligence in accordance with their aptitude and career options at an earlier age. Technology allows the students access to information in a manner that is more easily understood. NEP-2020 will lead to a change where memorizing and manual dexterity will decline and the student will be assessed on their analytical thinking, creativity, originality and initiative.”
The ability to actualise this promise will depend heavily on the teachers’ clarity regarding these terms. What they mean with regard to daily classroom practise, will need to be detailed through video, audio and text resources. A common vocabulary and a common understanding will need to be developed across teachers. This agreement will also be required across the teacher education faculty, both pre-service and in-service.
Since the NEP is contingent on all schools, private schools who already work on a common vocabulary are also welcoming of this approach. Shubadra Shenoy, Principal, Little Angels' International School says, “The NEP proposes well towards formative assessment of learning. At LAIS, these steps are a part of every lesson planning. As a leader, I'm quite content with what the NEP is proposing as the pedagogy is already in process in our schools. The concern is about the formal examination that it proposes for grades 3, 5 and 8. I’m unsure if this will create pressure on the teachers, learners and parents. The benchmarks are still not defined. I’m waiting to see what PARAKH has to offer. How much of this is going to affect the private schools and other boards is a big question.”
This time around, will the States see these progressive schools as resources? NEP suggests each private school should be buddies with a government school and work closely together. One of these shared projects could be the progress card. Section 4.35 of the NEP 2020 describes this progress card and its usage in detail. “The progress card will be a holistic, 360-degree, multidimensional report that reflects in great detail the progress as well as the uniqueness of each learner in the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains.” (NEP 2020, 4.35). Again, as in the CCE, we see the attempt to assess the ‘whole’ learner rather than specific subject knowledge possessed by the learner.
The cards will add up over the years, to become progress books, with complete profiles of the students, their strengths and the areas where they have to work on. “It will include self-assessment and peer assessment, and progress of the child in project-based and inquiry-based learning, quizzes, role plays, group work, portfolios, etc., along with teacher assessment”. (NEP 2020, 4.35)
Rajesh Malhotra, school leader of a low-cost private school in New Delhi (Sainath Public School) agrees that the multi-dimensional assessment sounds good, and wonders about “...the implementation process and the time that will be needed to reach that stage. Where would help to transform come from? The existing teaching staff would need a stretched hand-holding and the absence of the fear of being judged. Is there enough time for all this to happen? Will the government acknowledge these challenges and offer ready help/guidance for reaching there? For the school leaders, it is a huge wake-up call that must be followed with concrete action steps. This would mean organising marathon awareness sessions on NEP, and investments in infrastructure up-gradation, teacher training and a dedicated support system.”
School leaders like Rajesh know that it takes an enormous effort for the teachers to change and deliver the teaching and learning. The NEP offers help by reducing the syllabus to essential learning outcomes and core concepts and the introduction of higher-order thinking skills (HOTS). By doing this, it appears to make two assumptions. One, that teachers were not able to deliver inquiry-based and project-based learning because of the volume of information to be imparted. Two, that changing the nature of the questions would enable teachers to change their delivery and make use of their 50 hours of PD on online platforms.
However, Kirsten A DSouza, Academic coordinator of a Somaiya school in rural Karnataka points out, “Teachers have to first change their mindset and understand what true education is and what it means to achieve the higher segments of Bloom's taxonomy. They will need to focus on improving a student's real potential to create something new rather than on what they are told to do. Also, schools must provide infrastructure and the resource for a student to grow in his/her area of interest. Parents must realise marks are not the only way to assess the growth and potential of a child. Students must want to master a skill, pursue their own interest while also acquiring knowledge.”
The Holistic Report Card includes self, teacher and peer assessments. “The holistic progress card will form an important link between home and school and will be accompanied by parent-teacher meetings in order to actively involve parents in their children’s holistic education and development. The progress card would also provide teachers and parents with valuable information on how to support each student in and out of the classroom.” (NEP 2020, 4.35).
While parent engagement has been identified as having a significant impact on 30-40% of students’ learning outcomes, it is AI that can pick up on where a student “is” and take them to the place where they would like to be. “AI-based software could be developed and used by students to help track their growth through their school years based on learning data and interactive questionnaires for parents, students, and teachers, in order to provide students with valuable information on their strengths, areas of interest, and needed areas of focus, and to thereby help them make optimal career choices.” (NEP 2020, 4.35).
What we must remember as we imagine this report card of our student, is that if we want to see critical thinkers and problem solvers emerging from our schools, they must have ample opportunities to practice agency. If databases full of information about students are deployed to make their decisions for them, then we can rest assured our education system will continue to send out students who are afraid to think for themselves. AI must only act as a GPS does, guiding the students to where they want to go, not determining the goal and not deciding the route.
For students to be able to choose for themselves, make mistakes, and reflect on and learn from their own decisions, their teachers, parents and data scientists need to understand how to step back and be supportive. Schools must remember that students enrol to learn, not to be graded. And that their primary job is to enable independent, critical thinkers who collaboratively and respectfully take care of themselves and the planet.
About the author:
Kavita Anand is the co-founder of Adhyayan Quality Education Services Pvt. Ltd. and Adhyayan Quality Education Foundation. Adhyayan is a movement and network of Indian and international educators, dedicated to systemically improving the quality of leadership and learning in schools. Adhyayan has worked with 7000 schools across 26 states in 11 languages, impacting more than a million students. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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