Marks factory

This year, for the first time, two students scored the perfect 100 per cent in Class 12 examination of CISCE, and two have scored nearly perfect – 499/500 – in CBSE. Expert questions the evaluation system, which is leading to such incredulously high scores, and say these will make post-school competitions tougher.

May is the month of monster marks. Every year, when the results of Class 10 and Class 12 are declared, the monster becomes bigger. The 99 per cent that looked hip a few years ago is now passé – the time is now for cent per cent. This year, two students of Class 12 under the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) scored a record-breaking 100 per cent marks. So far, in the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) no student has achieved this feat but they have been behind this only by one mark. In the Class 12 results this year, two students scored 499 out of 500, and in Class 10, 13 got this unbelievable score. What makes these scores more unrealistic is the fact many of the students getting them are from humanities, which means they are scoring a perfect 100 in languages.

According to data from the CBSE, this year 2,758 students scored the perfect 100 in Sanskrit, 1,820 in English communication and 24 in English language and literature.

When the Class 10 and Class 12 results are declared every year, the social media is flooded with gloating posts by parents whose children get these unrealistic marks. And the parents, whose children fail to cross “oh-so-normal” 90 per cent barrier either don’t mention the marks or fudge them if someone asks about their children’s score.

There are very few, like Delhi mother Vandana Sufia Katoch, who celebrates even a 60 per cent. On May 8, after the CBSE announced the Class 10 result, Katoch took to Facebook to share her joy over her son’s score.

“Super proud of my boy who scored a 60% in Class 10 board exams. Yes, it is not a 90, but that doesn’t change how I feel. Simply because I have seen him struggle with certain subjects almost to the point of giving up, and then deciding to give his all in the last month-and-a-half to finally make it through! Here’s to you, Aamer. And others like you – fishes asked to climb trees. Chart your own course in the big, wide ocean, my love. And keep your innate goodness, curiosity and wisdom alive. And of course, your wicked sense of humour!”

The post became hugely popular with more than 10,000 likes, comments and shares each till the time of writing this piece.

The post inspired many parents who shied shying away from discussing scores that they consider lower than the conventional good score of 90 per cent or above. In the comments section, many parents worded their realization that marks were not the end of the world – they don’t define who you are and who you are going to be.

The post has also revived the debate on marks.

In India, most parents burden their children with their own expectations and want them to realize their own unfulfilled dreams. Indian households are heard telling children, “I wanted to become a doctor but couldn’t; now we expect you to become one,” or similar things.

Our children need space to expand their identities and not become a reflection of us. Their tender shoulder shouldn’t be burdened with carrying the responsibility of making us happy.

Meanwhile, let’s return to the exceptionally high scores in Board examinations.

Since 2009-10, there are more students scoring above 95 per cent than ever before, leading to higher college cut-offs, often students with 99 out of 100 missing out on admissions into Honours courses.

Experts say the incredulously high scores are because of the way the answer sheets are evaluated and not an indicator of the fact that students today are brighter than their counterparts in the 1980s or 1990s when someone getting more than 80 per cent use to feature in the state merit list. In most state boards, this still happens, but the toppers are scoring more marks even there. For example, in the 1990s, a state topper would score something like a 85 per cent but today, the students who score the highest in Class 10 or Class 12 in a state board are scoring more than 90 per cent. Of course, they are yet to touch the 99 per cent or the perfect 100 per cent ceiling yet.

Says Lata Vaidyanathan, veteran educationist and former principal of Modern School Barakhamba, New Delhi: “I have followed Board results for years – the rise of the ‘ninety percenters’ and colleges with 100% cut-offs. I don’t believe students today are any smarter or brighter than students before them. It’s the way evaluations are done and the marking schemes that are allocated to different state boards, which has led to this absurd trend.”

Former National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) director Krishna Kumar agrees with Vaidyanathan. “This culture of right or wrong and ‘model answers’ promotes cramming. The students’ own way of writing or thinking is not appreciated in this system. It is unfortunate,” he says.

The Hindustan Times has quoted former chairperson of the department of English at Punjab University, PU, Rana Nayar, as saying this: “The examiners are given instructions to the effect that if an answer is along the expected line and the student manages to reproduce some of the phrases and words even if the grammar is incorrect, she/he has to be given full marks.”

But how can anyone have a 100% competence in a language, question other experts. English or Sanskrit, for example, is not like Mathematics or Physics, exact sciences, where it is possible to get a perfect score – languages need imagination and articulation. One can get full marks in grammar but can there be a perfect essay or a perfect letter? For passages, students are required to write title and summary. Can there be a perfect title and an absolutely immaculate summary to command full marks?

One can score a perfect 100 per cent in a language paper only if the expression is of no consequence – the style of writing, the idioms, the metaphors, the allegories, the turn of phrase, the vocabulary, the allusions, the nuances, the working with words, the sensibilities are useless – only the content matters. If you have written all the points given to the evaluators as guide for marking, you get full marks.

Nayar has objection to this kind of evaluation, saying that he is not in favour of giving 100 marks to language subjects. “The performance of a student has to be judged by expression, language skills, grammar and several other aspects. This standardisation of all subjects cannot go on. There is no justification for giving 100 marks in languages,” he says in the Hindustan Times report.

It is true that children today face fare more competition than their counterparts did two decades ago. Seats in colleges are limited and with cut-offs going north year after year, it only become more difficult to get those. Some families prefer to send their children abroad if the score is not good enough for an Indian university or college.

Let’s consider the competition in India. For 11,000 seats in top engineering colleges in India, more than 1.4 million students take the Joint Entrance Examination every year; and for 100,000 seats in medical college, one million students take the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test.

For taking these examinations, this year around 1.3 million students sat for Class 12 exam in CBSE alone. The number is much higher if one takes the state boards into consideration. Of course, all of them are not from the science stream but for every stream, there’s a very narrow lane that takes students beyond school and into college.

The unattainable high scores in school examinations only make the competition tougher.

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