If you go by marks awarded, Indian students have turned in their best ever performance in a year they seldom went to school and never took the final exam. CBSE Class X and XII boards have passed a record 99.04% and 99.37% students respectively, with those scoring above 95% jumping 38% and 81%. This extraordinary uptick is echoed across state boards. For example, Maharashtra HSC results have witnessed a gravity-defying 1,000% rise in the 90% category.
With all the other evidence crying how learning outcomes have suffered in this period, who will such grade inflation fool? Even the argument that it helps reduce student stress will crumble when college cutoffs move brutally north too. And grade inflation was an epidemic even before the pandemic. Before the 95% club more than doubled in the 2020 Class XII CBSE boards, it soared by 39% in 2019.
India’s gross enrolment ratio in higher education is 27% as compared to Indonesia’s 36%, Brazil’s 51%, and the US’s 88%. So more students should definitely be attending colleges and universities. But for that we need more quality college capacity. In the near term the challenge is, how will existing institutions filter a dramatically increased number of applicants with ‘high marks’? When board results abandon all pretence of actually measuring ability, relying on them alone would be unsound, to say the least.
A ready framework is available in the Central Universities Common Entrance Test conducted by the National Testing Agency. Think of it as an Indian SAT, which could be held multiple times a year. Until the pandemic lasts and such a nationwide test has to be taken online, testing centres could be widely set up for digitally deprived students. Next step: We need an overhaul of school examination systems if examinations are to have any meaning.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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