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Mainstream, VOL LX No 19, New Delhi, April 30, 2022

CUET Adds Further to the Tyranny of Imposing Over-Centralized, Exam-Centered ‘Education’ | Bharat Dogra

Friday 6 May 2022, by Bharat Dogra

One of the most important requirements of our troubled world is a meaningful system of education which is able to create joyful, interesting conditions of learning linked to strong ethical values of justice, equality, honesty, truth, compassion, non-violence, care of all living beings, protection of environment and courage. A key question that any student should be exploring is—how can I best contribute to a more just and protective world and how I can increase my potential and capabilities for this? This exploration should be guided by teachers to make it a wide, wandering and wondering effort, very creative and satisfying, giving students all the time and space needed to seek answers to their doubts, curiosities and questions.

Unfortunately our school education system is far from this ideal situation. It is based on much narrower thinking, and dominated by the oppressive exam system whose pressures are supposed to motivate students to work harder with their lessons.

However it is forgotten almost entirely that education motivated by joyful creativity and curiosity can never be equaled by an education motivated by various kinds of pressures. Even the most obvious fact that children should never be overburdened and forced to learn is a system that often tends to be oppressive for many students is being ignored.

The essential task of relating the learning of various subjects to larger ethical issues and encouraging, motivating students to think independently on these issues, using reason and facts, is all but forgotten in the narrow examination oriented approach.
When my daughter went to middle school there was a big debate taking place on how to reduce the burden of schoolbags. Now my granddaughter goes to middle school and when I compare the two bags I have a feeling that the bag burden has increased somewhat since then. Where did all the debate take us? We have been talking constantly about educational reform, while clinging on to basic problems, at best tinkering with them, perhaps making a few improvements here and there but also worsening the situation elsewhere. Commercialization has certainly increased, as has excessive emphasis on getting ahead of others, with the inevitable resort to fair means or foul, jealousies and worse, instead of children learning to work together in a spirit of mutual help and cooperation. A large number of children, including those who are doing well, feel overburdened some of the time or most of the time, while a significant number feel like losers.

Instead of being innovative in our creativity, we constantly look to richer countries like the USA as role models, forgetting that three highly credible organizations on child health in the USA have very recently given a warning that the country is in the middle of a child mental health emergency. This was followed by another leading agency here calling for screening all children above the age of 8 for anxiety.

A more recent manifestation of following the western model has been to introduce CUET which actually is not such a cute idea at all. CUET (Common University Entrance Test), following in the footsteps of more technically oriented NEET and JEE, adds further to the burden of never-ending exams in an examination-oriented exams, at the same time devaluing the school and board exams.

Within the parameters of the existing education system with all its distortions, students who worked hard for school and board exams at least had the satisfaction of knowing that this would contribute to their future success and options. Now even this satisfaction, although not denied, has been devalued, yielding place to bigger role for an even narrower, additional system of evaluating, screening and selecting school-leaving students for higher education. The new system narrows the possibility of creative school reform while increasing in a big way the stranglehold of the highly commercialized coaching system which has been relentlessly sucking away the creativity of our educational stream while increasing its inequalities and unequal access. The burden of examination will increase further, and over-centralization will become a big problem.

Earlier as tensions of an exam and competition oriented system increased, an easy way of reducing tensions and increasing happiness without making any basic reform had been sought by more generous marking. While excessive competitiveness still continued to remain a problem even among those who scored in the above 90%-95% category, the high scores helped to create a feel-good factor. It is said that this tendency was also used by some school boards in such a way that the students passing from them had an unfair advantage over others in terms of seeking admission to central universities and other prestigious institutions of higher education. So CUET has been introduced to provide a leveling of opportunities, it has been claimed, but with the previous experience of such exams being dominated by expensive coaching type preparations, the opportunities are likely to reduce further for those from weaker sections. These are likely to be reduced also for schools following somewhat different textbooks and syllabi than the standardized ones. The entire system is getting more and more centralized, with one change contributing to the other.

Even if CUET was to be introduced, more time for debate and consultation could have been allowed, instead of the very hurried introduction this year itself, taking students, parents and even educationists by surprise, increasing uncertainty and tension. If at all CUET is to be considered in the government’s scheme of educational planning, the right time for its introduction would have been next year-2023.

CUET cannot be regarded as a ‘reform’ in any positive sense of the word; however in the way that the words ‘economic reforms’ have been used to denote all manner of junk economic policy, the words ‘educational reform’ may be applied to steps like CUET. We still wait for any real educational reform.

(The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas for Our Times).)

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