Kapil Sibal, India’s Human Resource Development Minister, is scandalised by Delhi’s Sri Ram College of Commerce declaring a mark range of 96 to 100 as the cut-off limit for admissions to its Commerce course. Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, joked that his son would have to score 110 percent by the time he came to class XII.
How can anyone blame Sri Ram or any college for fixing a high cut-off limit if there are thousands of students scoring such high marks? The problem, obviously, lies with the evaluation system and not with the admission system. That is, if there indeed is a problem.
If students are really brilliant and they score nearly 100 percent in the exams it is not a problem. Rather, it is something which we as a nation should be proud of. Or else, we should examine the evaluation system.
I have been an examiner myself of a prominent education Board in the country for quite some time. My subject is English. The first time I went as an examiner, I got a set of scripts which contained answers with hilarious spellings and no grammar at all. Furthermore, the examinees revealed little knowledge of the lessons. A fellow examiner informed me that the scripts were from government schools. My Head Examiner was shocked with the marks I awarded. “We are not trying to produce more rickshaw pullers and coolies,” he told me indignantly. “There are too many of them in the country. Please be a little generous.” I had thought I was way too liberal! How stupid I was, I told myself. I didn’t even know the difference between being liberal and being generous. I became generous from that time. Rather, the Board made me generous.
Invariably every year I came across Head Examiners who gave lessons in generosity on the first day of the evaluation. Some of them even went to the extent of theorising on generosity. For example, one year the Head Examiner said, “If a student can score 100 percent in maths and science subjects, why can’t he or she score the same in English?” I have listened to many such theories in the past and am sure to listen to more in the future.
The latest was the 2011 exam. On the first day of the evaluation I was given 5 scripts as usual. I remember very clearly that out of the five, three scored above 90 and two scored between 85 and 90. I was convinced that I was ‘generous.’ But to my horror and shame, the Head Examiner was indignant. “This student to whom you have given 89 could easily get 90,” he admonished me. “There is a psychological difference between 89 and 90,” he went on to explain. He drew my attention to a particular answer to which I had given only 1 mark out of 2. “This answer has no mistake as far as grammar and spelling are concerned. Why did you cut one mark?” I pointed out that the answer was diametrically opposed to the spirit of the poem. The answer revealed a very unsatisfactory understanding of the lesson. “See,” said the Head Examiner, “there are some teachers who interpret the poem that way too. How can you penalise the student for that?” That was a new lesson for me. Apart from being generous, the examiner also had to take into account all the possible interpretations that all the possible teachers in the country could offer for the lessons.
I know through my colleagues that such generosity is demanded not only of English teachers. Teachers of every subject, including the very ‘objective’ subjects like mathematics and science, are compelled to give marks ‘generously.’
The generosity of the Boards produce students with marks that may scandalise Kapil Sibal or amuse Omar Abdullah. But Sibal and Abdullah should not blame the colleges for such marks.
In fact, Kapil Sibal should only be happy with the high scores of the students. He should celebrate it with a party for the school teachers. He has revolutionised the education system in the country with the grading system, optionalisation of exams in class X, and so on so that the students will be real winners.
Having said this much, I must add one more thing lest I do injustice to the students. There are many students who are brilliant and deserve very high scores. Time and again I have felt excited reading the answers provided by some candidates. Time and again I was aware that I was being just in awarding high scores.
The number of such students wouldn’t run into thousands, however.