When I compare my boyhood with that of my sons, I’m staggered by how different their lives are. For the purposes of this post, I will put aside the obvious factors such as technological advances and concentrate on changes in the institution that dominates the life of every child: the school. Back in school in the 1970s, life was straightforward. Classes were held five days a week, and the highlight of each year was the annual exam. Those who fared badly in the annual exam had to repeat a year in the same class. Homework was assigned, but the workload could be comfortably managed. Those with scholastic ambitions worked very hard indeed, most drifted along, and a few brought up the rear. There was plenty of leisure time, to read, to play, and to stand and stare.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my sons, who are burdened with crippling homework and projects that eat up all their leisure hours. They are as busy as corporate executives. Their childhood is being robbed in broad daylight, and I as a parent am powerless to do anything about it. The schools are engaged in cut-throat competition, fed by newspaper reports about how their pupils have fared in the public exams. Parents feed the frenzy, worried that their children are losing out if the time devoted to academics is cut short. So, we have all clambered onto a machine that is spinning out of control, endlessly spewing out homework, projects, tests, examinations, assessments, special classes during holidays, prep for standardized tests, tuitions, etc., in an ever-accelerating spiral of life-denying creativity-stultifying grade-worshiping madness. This is the murder of the souls of children, a slaughter in which we are all complicit.
Ironically, the powers that be are seized of the problem. Newspaper reports of suicides by kids who fail in exams and prefer to kill themselves rather than face their parents are kind of hard to ignore. So the ministry of education woke up and declared that the stress on schoolkids has to be reduced, and they swung into action. They first declared that the tenth standard board exams would be abolished. Then the board exams were made optional. Then the board exams would be conducted by the schools themselves. Then the students could choose between the exams conducted by the board and the school. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but this is what I gathered from newspaper reports, with my kids still some years away from the landmark ninth standard. Now, however, my eldest is in the ninth, and I understand that he’s in for a rare treat: a minimum of four board exams over the next two years. I, by way of comparison, wrote just one board exam at the end of my tenth standard.
Further, the board has introduced something called Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE). A meeting of parents was called by the school to explain the scheme to us. Now, as far as I can see, the plan has a sound basis — at least, the “Comprehensive” part. We all know of schoolmates who were phenomenally talented in sports or music, but who fell short in academics. Under CCE, these talents would be recognized, and would contribute to the overall grade. This is an idea that should probably be extended further — maybe the sport or art could be swapped for their weakest academic subject — and taken to its logical conclusion; however, what struck me is the mind-boggling complications this essentially simple and sound idea of extending the grade umbrella beyond the narrow confines of the traditional curriculum produced.
The essence of the child is split like an atom and evaluated on dozens, if not hundreds, of parameters such as thinking ability, creativity, sociability, manual dexterity, originality, logical thinking, problem-solving ability, inter-personnel skills, etc. Each of these parameters is further subdivided into sub-attributes, and grades are awarded on each of these. The final result looks like a monster spreadsheet that might be found in a psychiatrist’s PC or in the human resource departments in corporates. In fact, it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that the policy looks as though it was devised by corporate headhunters masquerading as educationists. What better training ground for the perfect employee than to condition kids to being watched and evaluated by the all-powerful authorities all the time? What next, CCTV cameras in schools to aid the all-seeing eye of the comprehensive, continuous grading process?
This explains the “Comprehensive” in CCE. The other C, “Continuous,” means that the child will be evaluated continuously, subjected to a barrage of multiple quizzes, tests (oral and written), projects, etc., during his time in school. The two Cs together essentially boil down to this: Every breath you take, every step you take, I’ll be evaluating you. And the self-declared overarching objective of all this? Would you believe it, it is to reduce the stress and pressure on the child! Ha, ha, ha! Only a bunch of over-educated and underemployed adults could’ve come up with something like this. How about taking some hard measures like downsizing the syllabus (there’s lots of flab), reducing the number of tests, exams, assignments, and evaluations, putting in place more effective career and psychological counseling, reducing the number of school hours (some schools have a six-day week), etc.? Nope, not on your life!
Perhaps I’m being too critical of the powers that be. We’re all culpable — educators, school administrators, teachers, parents — because we’re all in the same boat paddling away furiously to some distant hypothetical glittering shore, with no time to rest on those oars and think about where we’re taking our kids — and what we’re doing to them.