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West Bengal: Bandaid solution

EducationWorld July 12 | Education News EducationWorld

With West Bengal’s education system swamped with apparatchiks and lumpenised cadres of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) which ruled the state (pop. 91 million) with an iron hand for 34 years (1977-2011) until the CPM-led Left Front coalition was routed in the legislative assembly elections last year, the successor Trinamool Congress (TMC) government led by firebrand chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been making sporadic efforts to upgrade the system. The latest initiative is to infuse a modicum of academic rigour into secondary and higher secondary examinations. On June 15, the state government announced that henceforward the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE) will set the question papers for class IX annual exams in addition to the Madhyamik class X exam. It also decreed that from next year, the final exam answer scripts of class IX students will be evaluated by external examiners.

Likewise in higher secondary schools, class XI and XII final exams will be conducted and assessed by the West Bengal Board of Higher Secondary Education. With West Bengal following the traditional in-school terminal and final exam pattern until class IX and set to switch to the CCE (continuous and comprehensive evaluation) system and automatic promotion until class IX as recommended by the Union HRD ministry and adopted by CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) next year, the new system will ensure rigorous external evaluation from class IX onwards to ready students for undergraduate education.

According to education ministry spokespersons, the new external examinations initiative will reduce the role of schools which currently conduct class IX and XI exams and evaluate answer scripts as well. Chaitali Dutta, president of WBBSE, has been instructed by education minister Bratya Basu to begin the necessary preparations to implement these changes in the exams system in consultation “with all stakeholders” in secondary and higher secondary education. Dutta is a member of the 14-member council for school education constituted on the model of the West Bengal State Higher Education Council, last year with the education minister as chairman to monitor the implementation of TMC’s school education policies and projects and in particular, crack down on corruption and malpractice in secondary and higher secondary education which had become rife under Communist rule in the state.

With promotions set to become automatic until class VIII with the abolition of final exams and their replacement with CCE, educationists entertain the fear that under-prepared students will be bunched in class IX. “The class IX curriculum of schools isn’t sufficiently rigorous and students are inadequately prepared for the class X Madhyamik exam. Now with external assessment of the class IX exam, the 4,739 schools affiliated with WBBSE will seriously prepare their students for the class IX final exam. We will introduce the new system in government and aided schools next year and private schools will inevitably follow,” says Dutta.

Academic opinion on the changes introduced in the secondary education system, is sceptical. According to Debasis Chattopadhyay, head-master of Labnapara High School in Durgapur, the outcome will be an increase in the number of children dropping out before taking the class X boards. “Over 20 percent of students who write WBBSE’s class X exams fail to clear the exam. Now this percentage will drop out of school one year earlier,” he says.

Sujoy Chhatait, principal of Bankura’s Mankanali High School, endorses this viewpoint. “Class IX students will certainly treat the board-conducted exam with more seriousness. But after doing away with the pass-fail system up to class VIII, the first board exam has been mandated one year earlier. It will result in a large number of students — especially from rural areas — losing one year more of schooling. Also making the WBBSE class X exam mandatory — instead of optional as in CBSE — will rob excellent schools of the opportunity to better prepare their students for higher secondary education as the WBBSE is aimed to test average rather than excellent students,” says Chhatait.

Moral of the story: quick-fix, bandaid solutions are no substitute for root-branch reforms.

Baishali Mukherjee (Kolkata)

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