Coping with Comprehensive and Continuous CHAOS

Teachers are a stubborn lot. Give them a tough problem to crack and they will doggedly chip away at it - till something gives way. Then either a rational solution emerges or the entire operation is abandoned. And search for a fresh alternative begins. In other words, half hearted, lukewarm responses have no relevance at all in the universe of school education. It is all about being able to deliver. Or not.

No wonder, therefore, that the new evaluation process, rather graphically named Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation (CCE) system, has driven the teaching fraternity into a state of deep stress if not panic. Why? Well, it came into effect more than a year back (the academic year 2010-2011, to be precise) and is obviously here to stay. But it is evident that no one has yet been able to figure out quite how to deal with it. The teachers, for once, are ‘stumped’, pardon the puerile expression.  

The reason for this rather unusual state of things is also clear enough. In India, academic evaluation, in school or at the University level, has always followed a set pattern. The student is made to go through a tried and tested examination process, written or verbal, and his or her skills are evaluated as per the grades he or she manages to secure. The practice is periodic, typically marking an end of an academic session. The new system literally turns the conventional method upside down.

It divides the assessment technique into two distinct categories—summative and formative. The former is somewhat similar to what was being done till now, an end-semester report card, based on written, oral and practical forms of examination. But the latter, the formative evaluation process, breaks all existing guidelines and takes off to a completely unexplored territory. Yes, it proposes a method that is as dramatically different as that. The teacher is expected to assess a student based on ‘daily observations’. For instance, how does she respond in the classroom; how does she conduct herself in a group; how does she behave with her classmates or staff members outside the classroom, and myriad such nuances of her everyday behaviour during school hours. The education gurus have even specified eight assessment tools that teachers would have to use while testing formatively.  They range from setting oral tasks, like question-answer sessions, to giving surprise tests.

The objective is to ease the pressure of scoring well in examinations alone, by introducing an ongoing, in-depth technique that would encourage all-round growth of the learner. An extremely progressive concept that deserves an enthusiastic welcome from all quarters. In fact, some international education boards have been practicing this method for some years now, with considerable success. Our education bureaucracy has obviously drawn inspiration from these models.

So what is going wrong here? Why is CCE spreading panic rather than relief among Indian teachers? Again, the reason is simple enough to find. CCE, to work effectively and meaningfully, requires a specific school environment. And this simply does not exist in 99 per cent of our schools. Yet.

Now, at this juncture, trying to define and then create an ideal scenario for CCE would be like embarking on an adventure trip. Thrilling, but unreal and impractical. So I am not going to attempt that. But lets at least identify the most glaring gaps and try to get these plugged. Such as the teacher-student ratio in classrooms. The global practice is to assign not more than 10-14 students under one teacher, so that interaction can be direct and continuous. In India, while the Right to Education mandates that there should be a fixed number of students allotted per teacher, on the ground no such moderation is visible. While some (painfully few actually!) resource-rich schools try to maintain a 25 to 30 students per teacher ratio, a massive majority packs in 60 to 70 children in a classroom. With only a single teacher labouring to ‘teach’ them! In such a situation expecting him to observe and record the behaviour of each student, on a daily basis, goes beyond being adventurous - it turns comic.  In fact, it has the potential to trigger hysteria among subject teachers who, on an average working day, teach four to six different batches of students.

Then let’s consider the number of times the student is going to be ’formatively’ evaluated under the new system. As per the curriculum, broadly five different subjects are taught to our school goers—Science, Social Sciences, Mathamatics and two languages. But as they move to higher classes, all these subjects branch off into several sub-subjects. Like Physics, Chemistry, Biology all come under the ‘Science’ tag, and so on. The curriculum multiplies even more prolifically in the final years, with vocationals, optionals and practicals crowding in. Each of these are taught by separate teachers. Under the current dispensation, every single one of them would observe and analyse the students’ characteristic traits. And evaluate them. Given the sheer volume of profiles these teachers have to document, how authentic, sensitive or detailed can we really expect these to be?

The scale will remain mind-boggling. There are more than six and a half lakh of government schools operating across India.. We need not even begin to count the aided and private institutions. And CCE is applicable to almost the entire lot.

So what is the solution? No I am not a proponent of selective application. Every student and teacher in India should experience the privilege (or pain) of sampling the virtues and vices  of the new system. I would urge the policy makers not to be selective about “who” but “what” fall under the CCE system. And roll out the system in phases. In the first or the inception phase, identify specific programmes and projects, which can be a combination of several individual subjects, and make the teachers evaluate students only on the basis of these. These sets of CCE projects must be time-bound and should fit into the curriculum of not one but several subjects.

Let me elaborate. Let’s assume the theme of the project is water management. And students have been assigned the task of mapping the water profile of the school. The geography teacher can take up lessons and organise activities on tracing back to the original supply source.—does it come from the ground, or is it the local river?  The chemistry teacher should be able to take a part of it up as her syllabus and conduct a simple water quality test. The civics teacher can pitch in as well by initiating a students’ interaction with the local government body that is in charge of fetching the water from the source to the school premise daily. At the end of the specified period all these teachers can share and compare their assessments reports of an individual student, based on her performance as a member of the project team.

A varied range of such projects can be built up for primary, middle and senior school students. The curriculum setters can even specify key themes and let the schools develop the programme details on their own.

This way, the teachers might be spared the stress of having to ‘observe’ each student, every minute of every hour. The student’s character profile that would emerge at the end might be more structured, more logical.

Most importantly, the scenario might then be less chaotic. Amen.