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Opinion

Off-Topic: All is Fair in Love, War and Exams

It’s exam time not just for students apparently.  Parents too are getting into it and scaling new heights, almost literally:
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Photo by AP/Press Trust of India, Source: Qz

This is now getting bigger and bigger news coverage. Parents in videos are saying they have to do this because teachers at public schools don’t show up, and their kids are at a serious disadvantage. Teachers and invigilators are scared – this is Bihar and overly harsh action can result in serious violence against them, and no one will care.

While such things are done in many places – it’s just fashionable to target places like Bihar – the basis of such cheating is a question India’s not really answered: Why are we so dependant on the results of a few exams?

I was very very lucky when I was studying. I scored big marks in only one exam in my life – the 12th standard board – which, technically, was all that mattered. Eventually I was in a government run school – an excellent one – that allowed me in only because I was a double-digit ranker in the state, which was because of those marks. That changed the course of my life, but it is now even more difficult to get into any institution of repute unless you do well in a certain exam. And that is 3 hours per subject.

No wonder parents want to help their kids out. The desire for their children to be in a “good” school overrides all rational thought – after all, it’s a three hour transgression for what is a kid’s entire future. With those kind of odds, anyone will want to cheat, and even use armed guards to push the point across.

What we need to do is address supply. You’re not allowed to run educational institutions for a profit. Why not? Instead of believing this is helping – it’s not, and most private institutions are run for a profit, just not blatantly so – we should change the rules. Allow schools everywhere, for profit or otherwise. More colleges and more private investment in education will change India. Plus, ideas like the Khan Academy will rule, and learning can be interesting. If you have enough schools and colleges, you won’t have to fight your way out.

Cancel the board exams as an India wide entry gate. Do not require a grade as an entry point – let each institution conduct its own exams, if they have to, or use whatever criteria they want. Earlier, job requirements needed certain degrees; now almost everyone has their own entry tests and discussions and all that (And definitely cancel 10th standard exams – why have something when you’re not even done with high school?)

In general I believe we should allow fully open book exams only. It’s not like real life is about knowing something after mugging it up – in real life, you can refer to sources, and usually do.

The problem with our system today is that people believe they have to do anything, even if it’s illegal, to get ahead. Much of that is because opportunities to succeed have been limited. Even today, I find some companies that prefer “only IIT/IIM graduates, and not those that are from a reserved quota, and definitely not from one of the smaller/newer IIT/IIMs”. All unsaid of course, but that’s how it is. VC firms tend to eulogize the degree – oh, this is a great guy, he’s IIT/IIM, he’s great pedigree and we funded him. (The very best VC firms do not say this and in fact say the very opposite. But pedigree matters in the next rung, and even in the angel investing world.)

Our obsession with degrees drives us to send our kids just about anywhere. That attitude will change only if we realize that it’s possible to succeed without phenomenal academic credentials. It’ll change if we allow our kids the freedom to discover themselves before they make big choices on future education, so we don’t have to chase those mega marks anymore. But to the middle class, the degree is a ticket to prosperity, or has been; and they will need it not just to ensure the future of their young children, but also to be able to keep their head up in society. The future in the business world is much more likely to come from a bunch of kids who never had to fight for their degrees.

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  • Vaio says:

    Totally concur.
    Why is this still a govt. or private thing. Isn’t this a good opportunity for private schools to get listed. Gives opportunity to brand and expand.

  • kumar says:

    it would all be moot if we had fewer kids in the age brackets than we do now. perhaps 50% fewer population overall.
    competing for the same resources is what is leading to this sort of behaviour, what should be an outlier is accepted normal. and then there is the bihar extra sauce.
    we should all work towards that population reduction goal, perhaps.

  • kumar says:

    my sympathies lie with the honest student who might spare no effort and acheiving merit during this tamasha, and then be punished for being part of a student community that passed out in a particular year.
    only time will tell if there are covert and overt bans imposed on students who pass out of bihar this year, when it comes to college applications jobs and other future endeavours.
    latest news is that 600 students have already been suspended for this malpractice. not sure if that was a selectively deserved ban, or a ‘everyone in one exam centre’ type of banishment.