Mainstream Weekly

Home > 2024 > The devolution of education into an examination obsession: A critical (...)

Mainstream, VOL 62 No 16-17, April 20, April 27, 2024

The devolution of education into an examination obsession: A critical examination of educational practices in Telangana | Adama Srinivas Reddy

Saturday 20 April 2024



The education system in the Telugu states has become entrenched in an examination-centric paradigm, overshadowing the holistic development of students. The excessive emphasis on exams has led to alarming instances of student suicides, exposing the urgent need for reform. This article delves into the root causes of this crisis, highlighting the lack of empathy and introspection from authorities, the prevalence of exploitative practices, and the disproportionate focus on coaching and competitive exams.

The article advocates for a comprehensive approach that addresses the underlying causes of exam-related stress, rather than relying solely on lectures and generic tips. It calls for a reevaluation of the education system, prioritizing the integration of exams into the learning process, addressing irregularities, and fostering a genuine love for learning. By shifting the focus from mere test scores to cultivating critical thinking, democratic values, and equitable access to education, the system can better serve its intended purpose of nurturing well-rounded individuals prepared for life’s challenges.
Keywords: standardized tests, for profit coaching, examination stress, fair test, National testing agency

The Board of Intermediate Education in Telangana has repeatedly made headlines for tragic reasons, exposing a disturbing lack of compassion. In 2019, over 20 students alarmingly took their own lives due to errors in the intermediate exam results. More recently, an even more horrific incident occurred where a student died by suicide hours after being denied entry to the exam for arriving four minutes late. This took place in Adilabad district, where the student jumped into an irrigation canal, leaving behind a heart-wrenching suicide note. (New Indian Express2024)

What is appalling is the utter lack of empathy displayed by college authorities and bureaucrats whenever such incidents transpire. Instead of attempting to understand the traumatic perspectives of the affected students and families, they resort to callously justifying their actions. In this particular case, CCTV footage was scrutinized not to revisit the rationale behind the draconian one-minute late entry rule, but to divert attention from the fact that the deceased student hadn’t even arrived at the exam center. Inexplicably, the myopic ’solution’ proposed was to allow a marginally greater five-minute delay, as if enforcing such stringent deadlines was appropriate in the first place. Adding insult to grave injury, facile advice about utilizing help lines was generously dispensed. The apparent indifference towards the emotional toll on students and a glaring inability to self-reflect on policy failures is as staggering as it is reprehensible. This tragedy should have prompted authorities to fundamentally reevaluate the excessive pressures and regressive practices plaguing the education system, not prompted mere band-aid remedies that remain divorced from ground realities.

Corporate colleges and systemic failures

More than two decades ago, the alarming rate of student suicides in corporate colleges prompted the then Andhra Pradesh government to appoint Professor Neerada Reddy Committee to investigate[1]. The committee’s findings painted a chilling picture, it described these corporate colleges as akin to "concentration camps", warning that students were languishing in oppressive, high-pressure environments detrimental to their well-being. Tragically, the harsh realities unearthed by the committee stood in stark contrast to the impassioned promises made by leaders of the separate Telangana statehood movement. These very leaders, who had vowed to overhaul the exploitative education system upon attaining statehood, proved their words to be mere empty rhetoric after forming the government. The systemic failings that had driven scores of young students to their untimely deaths persisted unabated. The gut-wrenching findings of the Neerada Reddy Committee laid bare how profiteering had taken precedence over safeguarding the mental health of students within the corporate college ecosystem. Yet, even such a scathing indictment failed to catalyze any meaningful course correction emboldening the education mercantile complex to perpetuate its disreputable practices with impunity under the ruling dispensation’s apathetic watch.

The coaching culture entrenched in the Telugu states has flourished for over three decades, but it has led to a concerning phenomenon where students are often reduced to mere numbers rather than individuals. The traditional reliance on standardized tests has flipped the power dynamic, with the system now dictating the lives of students instead of serving their needs. In this current landscape, it’s imperative to update the old adage: "The tail is wagging the dog" to reflect the harsh reality – "The wagging tail is erasing lives." The original intent of testing was to serve as a tool for teachers to gauge students’ learning progress and enhance their educational journey. However, it has deviated from this purpose and morphed into a mechanism primarily focused on quantifying the profitability of educational institutions. Instead of facilitating learning, tests are now wielded as a means to evaluate and rank teachers’ performance, exert control over them, and rank educational institutions (Hopgood and Fred van (2019).

Inefficiencies of board of intermediate education

There’s a notable lack of evidence indicating that the Board of Intermediate Education comprehends the true objectives of examinations. It appears that even those within the organization lack the necessary qualifications and comprehension to grasp these objectives. Rather, the board is predominantly recognized for efficiently conducting examinations. In response to the widespread issue of question paper leaks, the practice of preparing multiple sets of question papers was introduced. The belief was that by using an alternate set in the event of a leak, the problem could be mitigated. Additional measures included storing question papers at police stations, announcing the question paper set an hour beforehand, and ensuring students arrived at the examination hall promptly. Initially, students were permitted to enter the examination hall up to thirty minutes after the start of the exam. However, this allowance was exploited by corporate colleges, who utilized the time to swiftly prepare for leaked questions. Consequently, this half-hour rule was abolished. While these measures aimed to ensure the security of question papers, they fail to consider the perspective of students.

In addition to overseeing examinations, education boards should address broader educational concerns such as the integration of exams into the education process, addressing irregularities in exams, and devising solutions to these issues. Various education commissions in India post-independence, along with other reports, have underscored the significance of School Education Boards. Notably, the Professor Amrik Singh Committee report advocated for a comprehensive restructuring of School Boards, emphasizing the need for them to evolve beyond mere examining bodies. It proposed that these boards should be reorganized, strengthened, and adopt a diversified approach, functioning as educational entities rather than solely focusing on examinations (Amrik Singh,1997). Despite the ongoing reports from teachers regarding notable behavioral changes among students post-Covid, there is a conspicuous absence of proactive initiatives from the board of intermediate education to address these concerns.

In the Telugu states, the plus two education is classified as college education, creating a peculiar scenario[2]. Consequently, teachers at this level often lack the opportunity to grasp the psychological intricacies of adolescent students. Their training and qualifications typically consist of basic post-graduate degrees in their respective disciplines, devoid of pedagogical training suitable for this age group. As a result, student-teacher relationships are often handled brusquely. Exploiting this educational gap, opportunistic individuals with commercial interests have propagated the notion that plus two education in the Telugu states adheres to high standards. However, the authenticity of the board of intermediate exams remains dubious. A cursory glance at any examination paper reveals a lack of clarity regarding question type and weightage allocation. Many questions are recycled from previous exams, and the evaluation process exhibits numerous flaws[3]. The option for students to request revaluation or obtain photocopies of their answer scripts for a fee indirectly incentivizes teachers to overrate scripts to avoid potential repercussions for undervaluation. Consequently, there’s a prevalent inflation of marks, with scores of ninety percent or above becoming commonplace. Despite these issues, the false narrative promoting the authenticity of state board exams persists, fueled by vested interests in the education business.

Consequences of dominance of examination culture

In our country, we have prime ministers who liken exams to warfare in their authored works. This underscores the deeply ingrained emphasis on examinations. Even during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the nation grappled with the fear of death, discussions on exams, known as "Pareeksha Pe Charcha," persisted uninterrupted, with significant financial resources allocated. A staggering amount of over Rs 28 was invested in the Pareeksha Pe Charcha program from 2018 to 2022 (Deccan Herald2024). When considering the cumulative expenditure from the seven programs conducted thus far, the total may exceed Rs 40 crores. The aim of this program is to alleviate exam-related stress among students. However, the effectiveness of stress reduction hinges on whether we address its underlying causes or merely provide lectures and tips? If the stress is reduced through lectures, the children should already be stress-free, because teachers, personality development experts, parents who have experience in exams they, keep on doing the work. Tackling the adverse effects of exams requires a comprehensive approach that delves into the root causes, rather than relying solely on verbal advice. In a country where exam preparation is glorified, the perceived greatness often hinges on exam scores alone. Consequently, discussions surrounding exams dominate the education discourse, overshadowing other facets of the education system.

As the education system becomes synonymous with the examination system, discussions about exams overshadow broader educational discourse. The relentless focus on teaching to the test and preparing solely for examinations detracts from the joy of learning. Everyone seems to be consumed by exam-related conversations, with individuals from all educational backgrounds believing they possess expertise in education simply by virtue of discussing exams. Success in highly competitive exams, such as the IIT and IAS, is often equated with superior education, perpetuating an ideology that influences policy decisions. What standardized tests cannot measure, their limitations, who can benefit from them, etc., are beyond their level of comprehension. When the education system transitions into an examination-focused paradigm, discussions around exams often overshadow broader educational discourse. Conversations tend to equate exams with education itself, leading to a disproportionate emphasis on preparing for tests rather than fostering a genuine love for learning. As exam-centric practices become more prevalent, individuals from all educational backgrounds begin to perceive themselves as knowledgeable about education simply by virtue of discussing exams. Conversely, individuals who feel inadequately educated may engage in discussions about exams to rationalize their sense of inferiority. By emphasizing their knowledge of exam-related matters, they attempt to compensate for perceived educational shortcomings and assert their expertise in academic affairs. In both scenarios, the overarching focus on exams can hinder the development of a well-rounded and equitable education system, wherein the joy of learning takes precedence over test scores.

It is often argued that competitive exams are beneficial, as facing and competing in studies purportedly enhances life skills. While competition in entertainment programs like games, sports, singing, and elocution competitions may yield positive outcomes, the same cannot be said for academic pursuits. In academic contexts, competition is inherently detrimental, as it can lead to unhealthy levels of stress, anxiety, and a focus on outperforming peers rather than fostering genuine learning and collaboration. It is commonly argued that coaching can mitigate inequality by offering additional learning opportunities. However, due to the scarcity of quality educational institutions and the abundance of students vying for admission, coaching has become a necessity to secure a place in reputable institutions. This compels both struggling and high-achieving students to seek coaching, inadvertently exacerbating rather than reducing inequality. Consequently, these conditions perpetuate and deepen existing disparities in access to quality education, contradicting the notion that coaching mitigates inequality.

Global perspectives and local imperatives

In a society permeated by the intense examination culture, from homes to schools and colleges, children are often caught in a conflict between idealistic aspirations and harsh realities. It’s no wonder that some may feel compelled to contemplate ending their lives amid this pressure-cooker environment. Both the Yashpal Committee report of 1993 and the National Curriculum Framework of 2005 emphatically advocate for measures to alleviate the examination burden on young children. Recognizing the detrimental effects of excessive testing, the National Education Policy of 2020 commits to a comprehensive overhaul of examination systems, aligning with the longstanding recommendations to prioritize holistic learning over rote memorization and stress-inducing assessments. (NEP 2020, para 4.36, 4.37). In January 2014, the Ministry of Education issued guidelines for regulating coaching centers. Surprisingly, these guidelines appear to legitimize the coaching industry rather than addressing its adverse effects. Instead of offering solutions to tackle the underlying issues, these guidelines tacitly endorse the idea that coaching is essential. These guidelines encompass aspects such as tutor qualifications, fees, and infrastructure, yet they appear perplexingly contradictory. They recommend coaching centers to prioritize the holistic development of students through co-curricular activities. Can we envision those who establish coaching centers solely for competitive exams adhering to such advice? Furthermore, those receiving coaching for competitive exams often gain admissions to sham schools/colleges. Strangely, these guidelines recognize the existence of such dummy institutions and the harm they cause (Ministry of Education,Guidelines for regulation of Coaching Centre, para 10.i.ii), yet fail to propose any measures to shut them down. In response to similar challenges, China enacted rigorous regulations in 2021 with the aim of fundamentally transforming the coaching center industry.Under these regulations, every coaching center is mandated to register as a not-for-profit institute, signaling a shift towards prioritizing educational quality over profit motives. Additionally, the curriculum offered by these centers is strictly regulated to ensure it aligns with the students’ levels, with an emphasis on reducing academic stress. Notably, foreign curriculum and institutes are prohibited, reflecting China’s commitment to maintaining control over its educational system from for-profit tutoring. These measures underscore the government’s efforts to promote a balanced and holistic approach to education while safeguarding the well-being of its students.

In the United States, FairTest is an organization dedicated to addressing the shortcomings of board exams. The institute advocates for policies that prioritize college admissions based on factors beyond standardized tests. FairTest endeavors to ensure that the evaluation of students, teachers, and schools is fair, transparent, reasonable, and educationally beneficial, minimizing the misuse and errors associated with standardized tests. FairTest promotes the use of appropriate educational assessment methods to enhance the quality of education without penalizing students, teachers, or schools. Unlike traditional test formats like multiple-choice questions, FairTest emphasizes performance-based testing, which measures individuals’ abilities and readiness to handle specific tasks or responsibilities. This approach aims to assess individuals’ capacity to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world situations. Currently, more than 2000 colleges and universities in the US employ Performance-Based Testing for admissions, regardless of board exams or entrance exams. Similar initiatives are needed in our country. While the National Testing Agency (NTA) has introduced the Common University Entrance Test (CUET) for undergraduate and postgraduate admissions alongside existing exams like JEE and NEET, efforts to diversify assessment methods and reduce reliance on highly competitive exams are imperative.


Exams that overly prioritize competition can limit the curriculum, neglect pedagogical principles, intensify student stress, and foster malpractice. Therefore, adopting more inclusive and comprehensive assessment strategies is essential for fostering a healthier educational environment. When exams, intended as a tool for teachers within the broader educational process, become overly prioritized, the entire education system shifts toward an exam-centric model. This shift distorts the curriculum, pedagogy, and teacher-student relationships, undermining the development of critical thinking and democratic values that children should acquire through education. Ultimately, the marks and grades obtained in such a system, lacking these foundational values, hold little advantage. Equitable access to educational opportunities is compromised, leading to increased inequalities. Moreover, education should instill courage to navigate life’s challenges, rather than becoming a system of testing that can inadvertently undermine individuals’ well-being. Therefore, it’s crucial to rebalance the emphasis on exams within the broader framework of education, ensuring that they serve their intended purpose without overshadowing the holistic development of students.

When exams, originally intended as tools to aid teachers, are given undue priority, the entire education system can become overly focused on testing. This shift distorts the curriculum, pedagogy, and relationships between teachers and students, undermining the development of critical thinking skills and democratic values that are essential components of the educational process. In this scenario, marks and grades obtained through an exam-centric approach hold little advantage, as they lack the foundational values necessary for holistic development. Furthermore, the disproportionate emphasis on exams disrupts equitable access to educational opportunities, exacerbating existing inequalities. Education should ideally serve as a source of courage and empowerment, enabling individuals to navigate life’s challenges with confidence. However, when education becomes solely about testing, it risks becoming a barrier to personal growth and fulfillment. In essence, while exams have their place within the educational framework, they should not overshadow the broader goals of education. Instead, education should aim to cultivate critical thinking, nurture democratic values, and empower individuals to lead fulfilling lives.

(Author: Adama Srinivas Reddy (sreevare13[at] teaches at the Government Degree and PG College, Jammikunta, Satavahana University, and is a founding member of, the Society for Change in Education, Telangana)


In 2001, Professor Neerada Reddy led a committee to address student suicides, presenting recommendations that remain unimplemented to this day. On February 9, 2001, the state’s education minister established the committee in response to a series of reported suicides in juni or colleges. Professor Reddy’s committee submitted its final report on April 16, 2001, which included critical observations. Following the report’s submission, Professor Reddy described the students as resembling "people hijacked and put in concentration camps" during interactions with the media.

Until 1998, Plus Two education in the Telugu states was classified within higher education. However, it was then separated, distancing it from both higher education and school education. Unlike the global standard where Plus Two education is recognized as part of secondary education, specifically the higher secondary level, in the Telugu states, it continues to be perceived as college education rather than an integral part of school education.
The author of this article, as mentioned in an article in a leading Telugu daily, asserted that a student could achieve a score exceeding 70 percent by memorizing merely 18 questions from the chemistry subject taught during his tenure in plus two education in Telangana.


ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy|
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.