With technology and automation slowly replacing human labor in almost every area, it is time that Education Boards across the nation not only overhaul their curricula but also their assessment strategies – so we can better prepare students for the changing professional needs of our times. Traditionally, schools and curricula have focused on learning content by rote memorization, a model more suited for the industrial age but one which has little relevance for the upcoming careers of the future.
Informed parents and business organizations are now demanding 21st Century Skills to become an essential educational offering. In the past, alarm bells rang when India performed dismally in the 2009 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) exam, which is held by the OECD every three years. India ranked 72nd among the 74 participating countries, ahead of only 2 countries.
The year 2018 brought a significant announcement from the Govt of India which signaled towards a positive shift in our education ecosystem. The HRD Ministry of India ended its boycott of the PISA exam, which is held every 3 years, and agreed to participate in it in 2021.
A recent and noteworthy development came from the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) earlier this year when it announced an overhaul of its examination pattern for class X and XII board exams. In a series of tweets, CBSE assured that the changes proposed in the question-paper pattern will make the exams student-friendly, and come as a “cheer for students”. This move will impact over 20,000 schools affiliated to CBSE in India and over 200 schools affiliated to the board abroad.
According to the information released by the CBSE, the major changes including pre primary school in Gurgaon made by the board include more internal choices in the question papers, a greater number of multiple-choice questions, a lesser number of descriptive questions and more innovative-thinking based objective questions. Also, all subjects, including English, Math, etc. will have 20 marks set aside for internal or practical assessments, not just for science, fine arts, etc.
The provision of more choices of questions is likely to minimize the burden of memorizing the entire syllabus by rote on students. It also gives them as well as the educators the opportunity to delve deeper into topics and their real-world application rather than just brushing past a broad range of topics, something that rarely leads to any long-term benefits.
The board also proposed that 25% weight would be given to objective and multiple-choice questions in the exam. According to the board, this will encourage higher-order thinking in students and reduce the burden of writing long and descriptive answers.
Another major announcement made by the board was the introduction of a 2-level Exam for the subject of Mathematics, namely, Mathematics-Standard and Mathematics-Basic. Students who are unsuccessful in scoring the required score in the standard exam can opt either for Math-Basic or Math-Standard re-exam. This comes as an important development for students with different learning aptitudes.
So far, the perception of the traditional education system is one that puts pressure on children to score high marks to succeed, which is reinforced at home by parents as well as the society in general. However, there is enormous research that establishes that a one-size-fits-all approach is inefficient and schools need to take into account different learning styles of students and make assessments more dynamic by evaluating a child’s progress on various parameters (social, physical, mental, emotional, life and career skills, etc.) rather than only on the yardstick of rote-based test scores. Marks have their place in the world, however, they should be based on depth/application of knowledge rather than rote learning. Hence, the changes made by CBSE are significant.
The exam makeover by CBSE with its much-awaited improvements is an important move towards ultimately reducing rote learning. Shorter questions, and therefore answers, will help redirect learning towards more problem-solving rather than cramming. It is for the same reason that at Vega Schools, we use the pedagogy of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) to deliver the CBSE curriculum framework. We give relevance to higher-order thinking skills-based assessments that give the learner the opportunity to explore greater cognitive work and come up with innovative, yet fact-based solutions.
The PBL way of teaching followed by Vega allows a child to not just grasp important content but to also provide a means to assess them based on their ‘depth-of-knowledge’ of various topics. For example, learners are evaluated not just on their knowledge of ‘what’ but are also encouraged to delve deeper into questions such as ‘why’, ‘how’, and ‘what if’. Apart from written examinations, PBL uses other methods of evaluation that allow students to celebrate their progress rather than fear the judgment-day, such as ‘Student-Led Conferences’ and ‘PBL Product-Exhibitions’.
If we wish for our children to learn to accept a feedback positively and learn from it, then instilling fear seems to be a highly counter-productive approach towards it. However, celebrating the journey of learning and allowing children to be free of ‘negative stress’, the way it happens in PBL, encourages children to be self-driven learners and also establishes assessments as ‘diagnostic, where learning begins’ rather than ‘conclusive, where learning ends’.
Today, we live in a world where multi-billion dollar industries are emerging and rendering others obsolete. Careers that were not thought possible about 20 years ago (such as Social Media influencers, Artificial Intelligence experts, Biotechnologists, YouTubers, Travel Bloggers, Food Bloggers, Digital Marketers, Life-Skill Trainers, Communications Designers, etc.) have become the most sought after careers, hence it would be absolutely irrational to prepare children for careers that existed 20 years ago. We need to focus on careers that will exist 20 years from now. And thus, real-world relevance, as well as immersive-learning, both important aspects of PBL, give the learner the kind of learning that shall be useful in a world of the future.
Testing for problem-solving abilities in exams is a much better way and will result in students developing a deeper understanding. Therefore, the changes are positive and deserve praise. The winners will be progressive schools and educators, as well as employers who are more likely to find the skills they are looking for. The real winners shall be this generation of children – your children.