NEW DELHI: Ahead of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) examinations for Class XII, which in the Indian context is a "do or die" situation for students, faulty evaluation and tabulation of answer sheets is a worry that cannot be discounted. TOI has highlighted in a series of reports how students are put to traumatic experiences because of mistakes in evaluation. Parents, students, education experts and even school principals feel that one lasting solution for this is to make the evaluated answer papers accessible in password protected digital format to all candidates.
One can imagine the ordeal of a teenager who is told he has obtained 58 marks in mathematics when in reality his effort has earned him 90. This is an example of an actual error, one of many due to shoddy evaluation or mark tabulation recorded year after year. Such a discrepancy in marks is almost criminal in an era when even half a percentage can rob a student of a seat in a desired college in a desired course in a university - and might well alter the course of the aspirant's academic destiny.
The stakeholders in school education are now veering to the idea of all answer scripts being available to students in digitised form.
After most school tests, students are given back their answer sheets - it is even mandatory in some institutions and parents are asked to sign them - so it is ironical that at a level where seeing the answer script actually makes a difference, they are afforded the chance only through a drawn-out, paid process. "Not everyone can afford to pay the extra amount. As it is the students already pay a good sum as examination fee," observed Yashwant Singh Negi, principal of Government Boys' Senior Secondary School, Ghitorni. A Class XII student pays Rs 1,230 as exam fees and an additional sum for any subject he may take up other than the prescribed five.
Though CBSE secretary Anurag Tripathi considered it unnecessary to give back the answer sheets, Negi explained why letting all students have access to their answers could lead to the eradication of the problem of errors - most of them due to sheer lack of diligence on the part of evaluators. "With children getting to see their papers, one can ensure the accountability of the teacher assessing the paper and make it easier to determine where the mistake occurred," he said. Rectifying wrongly assessed papers is a month-long process and entails costs for the students.
Ashok Agarwal, lawyer, Right to Education activist and head of the All India Parents' Association, was certain that a measure like this would increase transparency and put the examiners under pressure to be accurate. "If all answer papers are accessible, there will be a dramatic improvement in the evaluation process. It will be a deterrent to examiners who take evaluation in a nonserious manner," Agarwal said. TOI has reported instances of a few teachers taking the assessment lightly and making errors.
Even paper evaluators feel answer sheets can be given back, benefiting students and making the assessment process more robust.
"Though digitising lakhs of papers can be a tedious process, it isn't impossible," said a Hindi teacher. "Once the system is created, thing will gradually fall in place." CBSE, however, considers this a waste of resources. According to secretary Tripathi, every year around 30 lakh students take the Board exam and just over a lakh apply for verification of marks. "Based on that, we believe that 29 lakh students and their parents are satisfied with the evaluation. Therefore, to give out the photocopies in physical form or in digital form to all the 30 lakh students will be a wasteful exercise that costs crores of rupees," Tripathi argued.
However, the precedent exists. According to an evaluator, three-four years ago, CBSE had uploaded the answer scripts of the economics and English papers online after the evaluation was done "on screen". Another teacher, who has been part of the evaluation process for over a decade, confirmed this and wondered, "Why was this discontinued? The two papers demonstrate that the possibility of making all answer scripts available in digital format to the students can be explored." Besides, CBSE can start the process with just the Class XII exams that 11.5 lakh students sit for and over time extend it to Class X. As for resources, even at the moment, extrapolating the figures show that CBSE earns a profit through the verification process.
Students too are on the same page. Abhay Dubey, a Class XII student in Delhi Public School, RK Puram, was all for a system that allowed students to see their papers without paying for it. "We know how we have performed and expect a certain percentage. When we get lower than that, we would like to see our answer papers, even if to satisfy ourselves," he said. "But many hesitate to do this because everyone knows how costly and lengthy the process is."
Another student, Sanya Kapoor of Amity International, remonstrated against the time it currently took for the re-evaluation. "I remember a few students had to approach court last year after they had trouble getting admission in colleges because they didn't have their final marks at the time. Why should students suffer for no fault of theirs?" Kapoor asked.
As the exam dates approach, the board recently sent an advisory to parents. The Prime Minister similarly took up exams as the theme for a special Pariksha pe Charcha. These exams, undoubtedly, can be life changing and require such counselling. Then why deprive the students of the basic advantage of seeing their marked answer sheets?