Board exams must be scrapped permanently

Vijay Garg
 Is it really necessary to conduct Board exams ? What purpose do they serve ? Taking this year into account, Board exams for Class 10 students stand cancelled, and in some cases postponed, for two consecutive years—have there been any repercussions ? Why even have Class 12 Board exams ? These exams are only held so that children are certified to have acquired certain competencies at the end of their schooling life.
But is a 60- or 90-minute test, held inside the iron gates of the exam centre at the end of a 15-year school life, the only way to assess whether or not these competencies have been acquired ?
Wouldn’t all school-going children have displayed various competencies they have acquired at multiple points in time during their school years ? Why cannot these be captured and documented (as is done in many mature education systems and by many progressive schools even within our own education system) and at the end of 15 years, every child who has attended school gets a school-leaving certificate based on the portfolio of, let us say, the last four years of secondary school ?
Some may argue not conducting Board exams will lead to a further drop in the quality of Indian school education. But the unfortunate truth is: our exam-centric system has pushed the quality of our education so low that it cannot plumb further. Holding these exams and failing children, whom we may not have been able to teach well for 15 years, is neither going to help the students nor society at large.
Despite several such reports stating the obvious, we continue to remain exam-obsessed, leading ourselves into an abyss coming out of which is not easy.
A key reason for lack of an overhaul is—the current system acts as a gatekeeper and favours those with socio-economic advantages. To compete in these high-stress summative assessments called Board exams, one needs exclusive cramming time and repetitive practice sessions which the ‘performing’ schools get their students to do and parents support that endeavour with extra hours and resources that go with it.
It is a National waste of time and resources as it leads to the mind getting number and not brighter. However, neither parents nor schools realize that this would not enable the child to contribute to Nation-building, nor does it help them become an independent thinker, which is more crucial than ever as we progress into an uncertain 21st century.
This lack of awareness among parents and the disinclination of schools to chart the right path make sure that the system remains exam-centric and the society exam-obsessed. It also ensures that only those who can clear these high-stress exams are eligible for applying for higher education; the rest are labelled incompetent. Consequently, the same exam-centric outlook gets carried forward to the higher education system.
The only way our country can improve its floundering education system is by completely overhauling it.
Teaching only for tests is all that happens in our schools and this practice should be stopped. This would require an elimination of the Board exams at all levels—nothing short of it would enable us to get out of the educational malaise we are stuck in for more than a century now. And, this is the right time to do it because the ‘iron is hot’—we have not had these irrelevant Board exams, at least for Class 10, for two years.
Once the National Testing Agency (which has already been established by the Ministry of Education) is able to provide its full array of services, it could offer assessments at various intervals each year (or on demand) so that the student can acquire the required credits in order to get a school leaving certificate. After all, one should realize even that the entire theatrics of the Board exam serves just one purpose, to give students who have spent 15 years of their life going to school a school leaving certificate.
If all children, unless they have not been able to attend school regularly, are given a school leaving certificate, what is the problem? They will anyway have to write university entrance exams to get into higher education.
If they have not learnt enough to be ready for higher education, they will not get admission in a university, but at least they will have a school-leaving certificate, which is their right having spent the mandatory number of years in a school. Board exams are redundant and regressive. It is time to discard them altogether.
The writer is a  retired Principal of Government Girls Senior Secondary school MHR Malout Punjab