Could the coronavirus be the prescription our exam fever needs?


With the aggressive return of COVID-19, we experience increased anxiety. And in the midst of this turmoil, we are also witnessing the collapse of “normalcy” in our education system. As school board exams are canceled or postponed across the country, students, parents and teachers are at a loss. Perhaps many of them, conditioned to believe that education is incomplete without standardized tests or exams, fear that these young students, outside of the mental agony of the pandemic, will miss what this hyper-society. competitive needs: willpower or endurance. to participate in this exam war, accept the logic of classification, classification and prioritization, or the duality of “success” and “failure”.

However, this rupture of “normality” must make us introspect and ask worrying questions: can the ritualization of standardized tests and exams be considered as the ultimate substance of education? Or is there more to a learner’s life than the technique of learning exam strategy, or the competitive urge to be declared a “top”? Paradoxically, at this time of deep existential crisis, this question has acquired a meaning. It is in this context that three questions must be raised.

To begin with, let’s be clear that these standardized tests or exams are by no means neutral. It doesn’t take much political-cultural acumen to realize that a child from a municipal school located in the Trilokpuri slum in Delhi and a child from a luxury “international” school in Bangalore is by no means equal, even if both are necessary. master the same texts, assimilate knowledge into the same official program regardless of diverse and asymmetric socio-cultural contexts, and pass the same CBSE exam. With a huge difference in their access to social / cultural / economic capital, their performance is bound to be different. And we cannot hide the story of this perpetual reproduction of social inequalities through the so-called neutral and uniform exams simply because, sometimes, the child of a rickshaw puller or a street vendor gets 90%. , and his photo is published in the newspapers. Moreover, the absurdity of these ‘neutral’ exams becomes clear when we examine the digital divide in the country, and accept that the high profile ‘online’ teaching / learning is a myth and has done an injustice to those who do not. can’t afford it. Do these tests exist only to eliminate people, choose elected officials, enhance their “success stories” and, in the name of “meritocracy”, sanctify the logic of an inconsiderately divided society?

Second, it’s important to deconstruct our scholarly mind and realize that the kind of exams we experience are by no means the stuff of meaningful education. Instead, the ritualization and tyranny of exams causes immense psychic anxiety, generates widespread fear, and most importantly, robs the entire learning / unlearning / exploring experience of a sense of joy, wonder, and happiness. self-discovery. Instead, they turn one into a smart strategist; one is trained (by coaching centers as well as teachers obsessed with their students’ exam performance) to master the technique of giving the “right” answer. Therefore, each subject is reduced to a set of exam puzzles. Rarely do you find the time and space to, say, read a Premchand story at your own pace, or watch the sunset and explore the scientific reasons for the amazing color of the sky, or do things with its hands and feel the integration of the mind and the physical. Instead, the one-sided focus on exam performance kills the very spirit of learning as self-exploration.

Third, this exam-oriented education breeds fear, envy, and the superiority / inferiority complex. In a way, it legitimizes hyper-competitiveness as a way of life; it is inherently contrary to the spirit of reciprocity, symmetry and cooperation. Therefore, its “hit” products – the group of “high end” and “gold medalists” – tend to be selfish. The art of relationship, humility, the ethics of sharing, and trust in the innate possibility and uniqueness of every human soul – we do not allow our children to develop these qualities. Instead, schools orient them to become warriors. It would not be entirely wrong to say that the kind of examinations we have taken for granted are the worst form of violence we inflict on the conscience of young children.

Isn’t this also the moment when the coronavirus forced us to rethink our lifestyles, and therefore the very meaning of education? Feel the intensity of the pain and agony that we are going through. Feel the emptiness of what our bloated egos take for granted – our superiority, almost a sense of immortality. Feel the trauma of insignificance as we are reduced to numbers. Death becomes mere statistics and living is just a survival strategy with masks, disinfectants and vaccines. Feel the pervasive fear and loneliness that surrounds our existence when crematoriums are chaotic and hospitals are unmanageable. Education must sensitize our children, make them humble wanderers, activate their patience and endurance, cultivate the ethics of caring and prepare them to come through life with songs of collective redemption. No harm will be done if standardized tests and exams do not quantify their performance in algebra and geometry. And we won’t fall if TV stations don’t have the opportunity to interview the “high end” amid the suicidal tales of those who “fail”.

When do we realize that our children need something truly stimulating and life-affirming rather than the neurosis of exam-centric education?

Pathak is professor of sociology at JNU

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