Monday, July 9, 2012

The end result of education

What is the ultimate goal of education? Is the purpose of education just to confer diplomas and degrees on students? Is that the sole aim of education? For that matter, how do various boards of school examination and universities evaluate and decide on the progress of a student? Are examinations a fool-proof mechanism to decide on the intelligence of the student and her/her ability to comprehend what is learned? And the most important question is: is the prescribed syllabus and the courses of study relevant for the student or is it going to be of any use to them to live a better life in the future? But the most important question is the system on which we evaluate and decide the progress of the student.
A couple of weeks ago The Shillong Times carried a letter to the editor by a student who understandably requested that her/his identity remain undisclosed. This student highlighted some pertinent problems faced by students of Meghalaya Board of Secondary Education (MBOSE) I was given to understand that the concern of students and their parents is that those who migrate to other boards in the country were able to score better percentages than students who pass out of MBOSE. In the letter the student raised two pertinent questions (1) Is the prescribed syllabus of the Meghalaya Board too cumbersome (2) Is the teaching approach a hindrance to students to score higher marks. What the student did not ask was whether there is any difference in the way the various boards in the country evaluate, assesses and allot marks?
Few days later, The Shillong Times carried an article by a person the paper introduced as one of the toppers in the recent board examinations and the writer basically sermonized that students should not find fault with the system but should carry on and work hard to achieve their goals. Point taken, but the question is how can one accept one’s result when the various boards evaluate and mark their students differently? Some boards are liberal in their marking and this is not my statement but that of the vice Chancellor of Delhi University. When a private TV channel approached him for a statement on the cut-off marks for admission in the premiere colleges of the University, the VC ascribed the problem to the liberal marking that some of the boards are using. This means that there are boards which are liberal in their marking and others which are conservative. How does this translate for the students? The future of the student is being decided by the boards. If the student passes out from a board with a liberal marking system then her/his future is secured while the fates of those who study in those boards with a conservative marking approach are doomed.
The editorial of the premiere English daily in eastern India stated that the students who secured above 90 marks in the recent Class 12 examination conducted by a central board is more than three percent. Compare this with the results of the MBOSE. What is the percentage of students who cleared the same exam with more than 90 percent marks? Tell us Mr. Chairman, isn’t there something wrong with the way boards evaluate and allot marks? The different methods of evaluation and marking adopted by the various boards is also the main reason that a section of the IITs rejected the Minister of HRD Kapil Sibal’s proposal to give due weightage to the student’s Class 12 examination results for admission to the premiere engineering institutes in the country. The different methods that the boards adopts is now affecting the fate of the students who are applying for the state government quota to study engineering, medicine, agriculture etc. In the past decade most of the students selected for government quotas were MBOSE students. But I am sorry to say that very few students of MBOSE will make it to the list this time. In fact it is the duty of the board to see how many of their students are selected for study in government sponsored institutions and how they fared in the various entrance tests like IEEE, PMET, AIMS entrance test, JIPMER and even NEIGRIHMS. How many MBOSE students crack other entrance tests in a year? This will help the Board to assess itself and improve on its performance.
The trend of parents preferring to get their kids admitted in schools run by other boards started a few years ago. Now most parents prefer to get their children admitted to schools affiliated to boards other than MBOSE. Now hundreds of parents (who can afford it) send their kids to study in the state of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and even CBSE affiliated schools in Assam perhaps because of the liberal marking system that the boards in these states adopt. When even our kids opt to study outside Meghalaya, can the government still brand Shillong as the education hub of the northeast?
I am no fan of examinations as a way to evaluate a student’s progress and I don’t believe there is a fool-proof system to evaluate a student’s academic progress. It reminds me of the time when I passed my HSLC back in March 1984. The assistant headmaster of the school on seeing me in the campus, asked me what division I secured and assumed that I passed in the third division right. When I said I secured a second division he said, ‘give me your hand then.’ Now that I come to think of it, I realized that according to my teacher’s evaluation I’m a ‘third divisioner.’ In fact I was a ‘third divisioner’ throughout my school days, I barely passed my annual promotion examination and if I did it was always a simple pass. I think what is important is not the degree, but the information, the knowledge one garners and more importantly how one makes use of what one has learned throughout the school and college days and even now. What use are those credentials when one is not making use of what one has learned?
I believe the goal of education is to equip the youth with the ability to face the challenges of life and to bring change to society. In fact we are what we are now because the generation before us had struggled to bring this change that we now enjoy. The role of education is to make young people understand they are important and that they have the potential to help bring change at least around where they live. Recently two young ladies who are third year BSW students of St. Edmund’s College visited me. They requested that I come to speak at the environment awareness programme and tree plantation programme they organized as part of their community work. They sought my advice to suggest names of authorities or NGOs that can financially support their programme. I suggested that they approach cement companies and convince them they need to fund the programme as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitment. The two young ladies were delighted with the suggestions which gave them the confidence to share more information with me. They started telling me how they enjoyed their community field work which is part of their studies. They chose Mynso in Jaintia hills as the village for their community project and they had rented a house in village. They visit the village every week-end and work with the community. They have also helped organize eye check-up camps in the village and now they are planning to organize environment awareness and tree plantation programmes.
I was already happy with what these 5 or 6 BSW students of St. Edmunds College have achieved and the change they have been able to bring within the community they work with. But the most important thing is that the experience in the village has changed them. They said they were very sad at the sorry state of education in the village and they plan to do something about it. They told me they want to make a video documentary to bring to light the plight of the people in the village. I asked them how they plan to do it. They said there are two institutes with mass media department in Shillong and so they would rope in some of those mass media students to jointly work with them in the project. Now this is what I call real education. The students were not only transformed by what they have learned but were motivated to also transform society. They have taken the saying “Be the change you want see seriously” and hope to make Mynso a better place than when they first visited it. I wish them well.

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