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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 17 New Delhi April 14, 2018

CBSE Paper Leak and its Prevention: The Role of Education Reform

Saturday 14 April 2018

by Kunal Ghosh

On March 28, 2018 the Chairman of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) declared that question papers of Class-10 Mathematics and Class-12 Economics had been leaked a few days before the board exams, and therefore these two examinations would be re-held on a date to be announced later. This has raised a howl from the student community as entirely expected, and the media is abuzz with all kinds of comments and political thrusts and counter-thrusts. The Minister of Human Resource Development came on TV to say that the government is mulling encrypting the question papers and releasing the code only half-an-hour before the exam bells; or some variation of this, of which this author cannot be sure. In other words, he is thinking of a technological solution to an essentially ethical human problem. Sometimes such quick-fixes do work and I do not rule out such a possibility even in this case. However, I would like to put forward arguments to the contrary and recommend a different line of action.

I served in IIT-Kanpur for more than 37 years and during those long years was in touch with several other IITs through friends and work visits. A retired Professor of one of the IITs had set up a coaching class near his mother institution to coach Class 12 pass-outs for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for entering the IITs and allied institutions. He was selective and took a limited number, say 15, of good students, and every year one or two would succeed. Hence his coaching class became popular and used to draw many students from the Central School of this IIT or other private schools, where the wards of the faculty of the IIT were pupils. In one particular year the success rate of the coaching class was unusually and surprisingly high. A rumour was rife that one of the paper-setters of the JEE, a member of the IIT faculty, had a nephew attending the coaching class, and he disclosed the question paper to the coach-cum-retired-professor. All the pupils of the coaching class, including the nephew, were benefited but they did not have an inkling of what was going on till the exam was over, and kept their mouth tightly shut afterwards. The retired professor-turned-coach, of course, maintained a discrete silence. So this was the anatomy of a controlled leak, if there was a leak.

But sometimes the intended controls fail and the process leads to a major leak that hits the headlines. If someone makes a hand-written copy or a smart-phone image of the paper just before encryption, then a leak may happen. Hence encrypting the paper may not guarantee secrecy. On the other hand, it may lead to a myriad of technical hitches that may hold up the starting process of the exam at the last moment. Given the enormous number of schools in such a large country of dense population and mediocre staff and facilities, the probability of a technical hitch remains high.

I believe there are two sources of the problem: (1) the coaching classes/institutions; and (2) over-centralisation of educational administration. Let there be a thorough decentralisation of school and undergraduate education. I assert that there must be Central Schools in all States for catering to the children of the transferrable officers of the Central Government and the Army, Navy and other forces. Central schools and reputed private schools are often affiliated to the CBSE and this practice should continue. There should be a subsidiary board of the CBSE at the State level, such as, CBSE Uttar Pradesh or CBSE Uttarakhand, etc. This board should strictly follow the syllabus set by CBSE Delhi, but be autonomous otherwise in the matters of administering the CBSE schools in the State. Each State should set its own question papers but follow the time-table for the board examinations (that is, the final exams of Class 10 and Class 12) set by the CBSE Delhi. If there is a leak, its fall-out would thus remain limited within a State. The task before the CBSE Delhi would be to frame/update the syllabus, set the board exam time-table and all-India coordination among far flung State-level CBSEs.

Each State already has an IIT or an equivalent (such as IISc-Bangalore for Karnataka or IIST-Thiruvananthapuram for Kerala) and a premier Medical College.

All special entrance tests, including JEE or NEET, should be done away with.

Entrance to all institutions of Under Graduate (UG) education, be it engineering, medicine or any other, should be based on (1) Class 10 and Class 12 exam grades and (2) an all-India aptitude test, modelled on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) of the USA, which is administered by a separate specialised body called Education Testing Service. All UG admissions should be confined within the State. As of now the statistics would bear out that only a miniscule percentage of school-leavers wish to go out of the State if they have a choice. Let the States compete with each other in improving their schools and UG education. For those few who are forced to migrate from one State to another under exceptional circum-stances, some special arrangement can be made, for instance, the candidate should first secure admission in his home State and then seek transfer. However, a special arrangement is a matter of detail.

The CBSE has decided to reduce its syllabus at all levels considerably and that is a welcome step. Coupled with this if the Entrance tests (JEE, NEET etc.) are done away with, the wind will stop blowing in the sails of the coaching institutions. These institutions are practically running a parallel schooling system minus any laboratory content, and are distorting and harming our education system. The coaching classes and centralised entrance tests are over-emphasising theory, whereas we are weak in practical aspects of engineering and medical research. We need to bring back focus on the laboratories of Physics, Chemistry and Biology in schools and colleges.

This article is not about the Post Graduate (PG) admission and education system, although the leakage of question papers takes place in the entrance tests in that realm also. All that I would say is that an aptitude test like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) of the USA should be introduced for the PG admissions. At present some PG admissions are within the State and some are at the all-India level. This mixed mode should continue.

To conclude, let us take lessons from other educationally advanced countries in matters of administration and draw from our own roots regarding the content of the syllabus while trying to remedy our specific deficiencies and promote excellence.

Dr Kunal Ghosh is a retired Professor, Aerospace Engineering Department, IIT-Kanpur. He is currently a Visiting Professor, Mechanical Engineering, I.T., Nirma University, Ahmedabad.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62