Hardly has the Maharashtra government recovered from the embarrassment of being forced to withdraw its resolution imposing a means tested fee structure upon aided English medium schools in the state, when it has landed itself into another school and curriculum-related mess. A July 15 resolution introducing board exams (the Primary School Certificate Examination â€” PSCE), for 2.7 million class IV students across the state has drawn another chorus of protest from all sections of society. The PSCE will test eight-nine-year-olds in three subjects â€” social sciences, mathematics and general knowledge.
The idea of putting ever younger children through the stress and strain of big ticket public examinations has angered guardians â€” official or self-appointed â€” of the public interest. â€œIt seems the government now wants to add to our childrenâ€™s agony with the decision of board exams for students of class IV when they are already obliged to write the class VII public exam. Catch them young, groom them for board exams, bury their childhood. Thatâ€™s what the state government is up to in the garb of keeping a check on the quality of primary education,â€ says Pramod Navalkar, a former minister of culture in the Shiv Sena-BJP government which now sits in the opposition in the Maharashtra legislative assembly.
For the small minority of dedicated educationists in Mumbai this latest and patently ill-thought government decision is further proof of its careless experimentation in education. â€œWe have an arbitrary education policy. There is no continuity and various resolutions are just thrown at us at odd times,â€ says Gool Ghadiali, principal of the cityâ€™s New Era School.
Thereâ€™s substance in this charge. Five years ago the state government decreed that primary school children were not to write exams at all, that teachers should evaluate each student in class (average teacher-pupil ratio 1:70) every day. Belatedly realising that it would be impossible for teachers to do this, the government restored the class VII public exam. Now swinging to the other extreme, it has decided to test the proficiency of eight-nine-year-olds by way of a public exam.
But though young children will have to swot and sweat at an early age to do well in the PSCE, the real reason for the introduction of this early-bird stand-ardised exam seems to have more to do with upgrading the quality of the state governmentâ€™s low-performing primary schools which can be identified and pulled up. Government spokesmen admit that the new public exam will help standardise teaching in schools and make teachers more accountable. â€œIt will ensure the standard of primary education is qualitative,â€ says Ramakant More minister of education in the Congress-led state government.
Elaborating, J. M. Phatak, secretary of the school education department adds: â€œWe are frequently criticised that class IV students often donâ€™t know what they should have learned in class II. This exam will serve as a quality assessment check of every child as well as his/her school. Moreover, a huge number of students in our schools drop out after class IV. If there is a board exam at this level, it will enable us to monitor teaching standards at the initial stage itself and to improve the quality of primary education.â€
However, most educationists and teachers believe that the prime motivation behind this proposal is the traditional root of all evil: money. The Rs. 40 per student examination fee which the government proposes to charge will rake in Rs.10 crore per year into the state governmentâ€™s empty coffers. â€œStrangely we keep getting news of the new syllabus, date of exams etc from textbook publishers. They seem to know more about the PSCE than the teachers community. They seem to be the only ones â€” apart from education officials â€” who are in favour of this new exam for small children,â€ says Binaifer Chhoga principal of the highly-regarded Udayachal Primary School promoted and managed by the Godrej group of companies.
So while parents and teachers chafe with worry about the ordeal ahead for tiny tots, publishing houses and coaching classes are making the most of the situation while plotting strategies to â€˜helpâ€™ students cope with the testing times ahead.
Ketan Tanna (Mumbai)