Kapil Sibal as education minister is very different from his predecessor Arjun Singh although both took office with the Abhayahasta Mudra ( why fear when the hand is there)centrestage. Arjun Singh displayed near complete immobility on most issues while his successor Sibal is from the opposite end of the spectrum. In fact, if Arjun singh has been immovable, Kapil Sibal has been virtually unstoppable.
First he thundered that there were to be no Class X exams. Moment of relief for stressed parents, super achieving kids and all those harassed kids whom the system does everything it can to keep out. Time for a change especially as the first set of class X exams were held in 1977. Ideally over a period of 8 to 10 years, feedbacks need to be collected, tabled and incorporated towards the better functioning of the system itself. It is very possible this has been slow and fraught with difficulties. Given the funds alloted for education in our budget, this should not evoke monumental surprise.
Kapil Sibal, however is a man who will not allow any grass to grow under his feet. He wants change and his notion of change is dramatic, and in keeping with generation Y, is also required to be instantaneous. So change it is! Class X exams are to phased out, made optional and from 2010 onwards they will carry no marks, only grades. One year of such a board process has taken place. I am still quite puzzled as to how the awarding of grades instead of marks will alter the quality of education that we provide and transform it into something truly empowering? Surely as educators we must concern ourselves with the quality of education that we provide? Also perhaps with exactly how this is being dispensed? In the seventies and the eighties, we were educated largely within our schools, both public and state aided. Prodigies who sang and danced received parental support and training largely outside the school. This was also perhaps true of our best sportspersons. Schooling now is a very different ballgame. Schools welcome children as part of a programme to initiate them into the workings of social life. They feed the children, teach them to cipher and to sing, involve them in cultural extravaganzas, have all sorts of educative entertainments lined up for them, introduce them to reading and writing and language and when it is time to really hone interests and provide some direction for the child, they simply let go.
This is where tuition centres step in as indispensable crutches to higher education.
This year too, despite the abolition of marks, tuition centres, individual and group are chock a block with students in each year of their senior secondary education. These are not to be confused with coaching centres for entrances to the engineering , medical and technological colleges. The tuition centres I speak of are helping children understand all the maths, physics, chemistry, economics and commerce they cannot fathom at school. Meanwhile there are personal tutors for the languages, national and international. So today's young student studies by rote almost twice as much as my generation did, because they learn the same thing twice over. It is true that the majority of our school teachers are an overworked and underpaid lot. So if thoughtful parents wish to ease the pressure off regular school teachers and cough up money to tutors and tutorial centres, this gesture of philanthrophic solidarity must not be tampered with.
What we really need to do is to augment the corporate spirit our secondary education has been displaying for some time now.
We could use the occasion of teacher's day to get the government to announce new schemes to bolster the health of secondary education. Maybe we could petition Kapil Sibal and request that tuition shops be declared centres of excellence forthwith. Once this is done, these centres can be authorized to issue CBSE degrees in the subjects they teach, after a requisite written examination. This will enhance the self-worth of the Tuition Centres and the tutors therein engaged and enable them to set new benchmarks and aspire to greater heights. This will also solve the dilemma of numbers that the CBSE Examination Board annually grapples with, namely the correction of an enormous amount of examination papers at breakneck speed under diverse regulations by anyone who is available. We should also authorize our schools to issue certificates stating that their students were part of all school activities, barring specific subjects from nursery to class X or XII, whichever is applicable. This will ensure that there will be no bad blood between schools and tuition centres, since now they can officially feed off each other. Student loyalty, emotional quotient and commitment to core values can be deduced by the certificates handed out by the school while their academic potential or its absence can be gauged by the marks issued by the tuition centres.