A few days back India woke up to a photo of an experience many have heard about or have gone through – cheating in exams. The photograph was of rampant cheating occurring during the board exams conducted by the Bihar Government. This unfortunately is not a new phenomenon in India. The same event was captured a decade back, nothing has changed. But cheating is not only rampant amongst the youth, news channels broadcast cheating that occurred during a promotion exam for junior judges. Is the education and evaluation system in India promoting cheating and cheaters?
Rote is the method of learning that has been most prevalent in India. This is not surprising, given that it was memory that was key to handing down various prayers and texts through generations in ancient India. Memory was seen as a virtue which also stood for a particular class of people. This could be a reason why memorising is such an important part in teaching and learning in India.
Today, the use of rote is also an outcome of the schooling system that sees reduced number of teachers and higher number of students. In 2010, the then Minister for Human Resources Development stated that there was a shortfall of 12 lakh teachers while 5.23 lakh posts were vacant. In rural India, 11% of primary schools have a single teacher. In such a situation rote is indeed the only way for a teacher to impart some form of knowledge. A student blindly vocalising what the teacher says may just be parroting the sounds he hears but the student is being kept occupied for those hours. Thus it comes as no surprise that, one of the main findings of the 2014 Annual Status of Education Report is that approximately half of the Standard V children surveyed could not read at Standard II level. The report claims that “Close to half of all children will finish eight years of schooling but still not have learned basic skills in arithmetic.”
So, there is every reason for students to cheat when they are tested.
Besides indicating a breakdown of the education system cheating can also be seen as a symptom of a society lacking moral fibre. But how can one grow this moral fibre when not only the education but many in society are complicit in creating cheaters? Teachers, instead of teaching in class conduct tuitions, parents prepare their children's class assignments. It would be pointless to teach students citizenship in an atmosphere that disrespects it.
But this is not just the case in India, there are instances of cheating in the US and UK too. These however have more to do with schools getting accreditation and therefore funding. Chinese students have also resorted to malpractices to crack exams.
Finland must be doing something right. Their education system has constantly been rated high. The main objective of the Finnish education policy is to offer all citizens equal opportunities to receive education. Therefore the focus is on learning and not on testing, thus teachers and schools are not forced to get students to perform in tests. This is not to say that students are not assessed constantly, but this is upto the teacher. Students come face to face with exams when they are 16 years old when they answer a mandatory standardised test. Most importantly the teachers are highly qualified, they are selected from the top 10% of their graduating class and have state sponsored master's degrees. The education system is publicly funded in Finland. A teachers job is highly sort after, it has been reported that in 2010, there were 6,600 applicants for 660 primary school training jobs. In Finland, High school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102% more than what other graduates make. It could be said that Finnish society give their teachers the same status as that of lawyers and doctors.
In India, teaching as a career option is not the first choice and many institutes offering a Bachelors in Education are of low quality. This is the reason why many States in India have sought exemption from the Teachers Eligibility Test (TET) which is an essential criterion for teacher recruitment and was started in 2011. This is a classic case of which came first – the chicken or the egg, on the one hand there are low quality teachers because of teaching is not rewarding monetarily and then the government is reluctant to give permanent posts to the teachers.
Any education system needs to be built on foresight, in terms of what the child needs, what the child will do for the nation and finally what the nation needs. However in India, a judicious use of hindsight would be more appropriate before looking into how the education system can create the citizens of tomorrow.
Samir Nazareth is the author of 1400 Bananas, 76 Towns & 1 Million People'