One Board for XII, none for X: Bold school blueprint of Sibal

June 26, 2009: The Indian Expresss

Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal today said he favoured a “single school Board¶ over the current system of several state-level and two national boards, CBSE and ICSE, and pitched for making the Class X Board exam “optional¶.

Announcing his 100-day plan, Sibal reiterated that he wanted to “reduce the trauma¶ and “sleepless nights¶ faced by school students and their parents. The Indian Express reported on Thursday that the minister was considering doing away with the “traumatic¶ Class X Board exam.

“If a student wants to go for a pre-university course, he may appear for the 10th Board exam. But if a student is pursuing the course in the same school, he need not appear in the Class X exam for promotion to Class XI,¶ Sibal said. An internal assessment would suffice.

Advocating a “single Board¶, the minister said: “By a single Board, a student can decide which university he wants to go. It is happening in law (courses). The aim is to reduce the trauma.¶ He also pushed for the introduction of a system to replace marks with grades in schools affiliated to the CBSE for Classes IX and X.

To ensure quality of schools, he wanted to explore possibilities of setting up an “independent accreditation body¶, Sibal said. “This will be voluntary in nature and good schools will automatically come forward.¶

He announced a proposed law to “prevent, prohibit and punish educational malpractices¶ in higher education. The legislation would address problems of capitation fees, ragging, and false promises made by corrupt institutes and fly-by-night operators, he said.

The government plans to set up an autonomous overarching authority for higher education and research based on the recommendations of the Yashpal committee and the National Knowledge Commission.

Sibal said all steps should be taken to enact the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, which seeks to make education a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14. “The bill should be passed in this session so that every child is given statutory right to education,¶ he said.

The government wants to set up an All India Madrassa Board which would award degrees equivalent to CBSE and other boards. The Madrassa Board will frame policy to impart secular and technical education to Muslims without interfering with religious teachings. “We will strive to evolve a consensus on this issue,¶ Sibal said.

He also announced a scheme to provide interest subsidy on educational loans taken for professional courses by economically weaker students.

Exam’s cancelled?

Kapil Sibal thinks big on education reform

If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older,¶ said Tom Stoppard. But childhood in India means heavy schoolbags, heavier loans, long examinations, and weightier expectations. Carrying that kind of childhood is the surest way to age quickly. For Indian schools are a mess; the aim to produce cookie-cutter exam-toppers only ends up causing frustration and trauma. Which is why Human Resources Development Minister’s Kapil Sibal’s out-of-the-box ideas are so welcome. He has talked of scrapping Class 10 board examinations, replacing marks with grades, providing broadband connectivity to 5,000 colleges, and the government paying the interest from student loans. As if on cue, UP Chief Minister Mayawati announced on Thursday that Class 10 examinations would end across the state; marks would be replaced with grades.

Each of these ideas must be executed with some care. Take Class 10 board exams. Sibal is right that such a “marks-centred and examination-based approach is a source of trauma for children and parents.¶ The quest for marks ruins the experimentation and learning that schools must provide; missing a percentage point can scar a child for life. But Sibal’s solution — percentiles instead of marks — needs some fleshing out. In most schools, Class 10 marks determine entry into Class 11 seats in the science, commerce or arts streams. (Certainly, the proposal to make boards optional takes care of some of these concerns.) On Sibal’s other ideas — loans and broadband connectivity — the devil, as always, will be in the detail. What is especially welcome is the announcement of a single board and the openness he’s shown to FDI in education. The move towards a single regulatory body of higher education too is long overdue.

An HRD minister who actually places the student above all else is a welcome break from the past; he will hopefully spark a nationwide debate on school reform. The previous UPA government chose to politicise education instead of reforming it. This newspaper has repeatedly urged the new government to change that. Kapil Sibal, with his ideas and energy, seems to have set the right tone. Childhood in India may even end up being attractive enough to carry into old age. And kids may actually learn much more.

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