I must confess that when I first heard of the Hon. Minister, Kapil Sibal’s, bold initiative to make the Class X Board examination optional and introduce a new system of evaluation to replace it, I broke out in applause. “Finally,” I thought, “We’re going to see some much-needed, refreshing change.” Having taught in an ICSE school, I couldn’t help ruing the status quo in the schools affiliated to the ICSE Board, while all the exciting action was happening in the CBSE schools.
What then is the CCE? “The CCE or Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation Scheme refers to a school-based evaluation of students that covers all aspects of a student’s development. Continuous means regular assessment, frequency of unit testing, analysis of learning gaps, applying corrective measures, retesting and giving feedback to teachers and students for their self-evaluation, etc. Comprehensive, on the other hand, attempts to cover both the scholastic and the co-scholastic aspects of a student’s growth and development – with both these aspects of the evaluation process being assessed through Formative and Summative Assessments.”
Mr Kapil Sibal had asserted that, “The CCE will cover all aspects of students’ development,” and his Ministry averred that it will, in effect, rid the system of the stressful annual examination tradition and ‘produce learners with greater skills.’ In his opening remarks at the conference of State Education Ministers held on 18 June 2010, at New Delhi, Mr Kapil Sibal spoke of how the new grading system had “reduced unhealthy comparisons with other students.” He further stated, “The initial results of the reform appear quite encouraging. The students and parents find CCE less stressful. [The] grading system has yielded better overall results, probably because students do better under less stressful situations.” Contrary to what Mr Sibal claimed, there seemed to be criticism that “the stress on students is increasing…” There were too many tests, assignments, projects, homework, and review tests being taken. Also, the microscopic examination of student behaviour as part of the assessment was making students behave artificially.
Looking at it from the teachers’ perspective, the CCE expected teachers to assess students on a continuous basis in a cyclic manner. They were supposed to “integrate assessment with teaching and learning, balancing the scholastic areas with the co-scholastic areas.” Their task now was to encourage and motivate students to be positive in their attitude. They would have to appraise the students objectively without bias and would also be required to interact continuously with parents regarding the students and the progress in their performance. To me this seemed quite the ideal role-prescription of a teacher.
Teachers were to “put in more work in the new paradigm by way of preparing their lesson plans, designing formative activities and evolving additional teacher-learning materials.” However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the CBSE had provided support and assistance with an extensive Teachers’ Manual on Formative Assessment, which contained the details of the CCE scheme and practical ways to “operationalize” the same by the teachers in their respective schools. Further, the Board has ostensibly trained 110 master trainers who, in turn, will train the principals and teachers of other schools. There was a toll-free helpline available for the teachers who could also reach out to the chairman on the implementation of CCE through CBSE’s website, www.cbse.nic.in. The CBSE’s explanation of what formative assessment involved underlined its child-friendly approach. Due emphasis has been given to multiple intelligences in children and making the teaching-learning process enjoyable. In principle, the CCE appeared to be perfectly aligned to and in harmony with a child-centred vision.
My meeting with the vice-principal of a reputed CBSE school in Chennai turned out to be a very insightful session. Being in charge of the CCE programme in her school, Ms Shobha Raman gave me a “bird’s-eye view” of how the school had adapted to the new dispensation. She began by first acknowledging the benefits of CCE as a process that had leveled opportunities for the children, giving every child a fair chance. While earlier a child’s performance was entirely assessed on the basis of pen and paper tests or the exams, now a child who was unable to perform well in these written tests was “also given a chance to excel.” The pressure brought on by examinations had, no doubt, been lifted from the children but a different kind of pressure had taken its place, especially for the teachers and school management due to confusion related to the formative assessments and how to fill in the various columns. She also contended that since the CBSE had made CCE a very transparent process on their website, parents had become increasingly aware and watchful of the grading procedure and had begun questioning the teachers and the school on the grades awarded to their children. This put additional and unnecessary pressure on the teachers.
What was really burdensome for the teachers was the compilation of data and the documentation involved. “The documentation is too exhaustive,” Ms Raman said. “The report card entries have become too much work and too time consuming.” There are always short-cuts that can be resorted to by computerizing these entries with standard comments that can be used repeatedly, but her school preferred to avoid this as the “personal touch would be missing” and the purpose of CCE defeated. Another area that she identified as a “problem area” was the VOE, which she laughingly exclaimed had become her “tale of ‘WOE’”. VOE or Verification of Evidence by the Board required collecting and keeping documents, test papers, models et al of all the work that the students have done in all the subjects. It was essential to maintain portfolios of all the students. The storage capacity that the school had to have was, thus, immense. Everything had to be preserved for a whole year and sometimes even for two years. Her school was definitely facing a space constraint, she said, pointing out with chagrin the cardboard cartons filled to the brim with assessment papers, lying on the floor and occupying every available space in her office.
Ms Raman excused herself to go to a class and I walked back to my vehicle reflecting on what I had learned about the CCE from her. Teachers were having to adjust to a whole new way of doing things. Co-ordination amongst teachers while they collectively assessed the progress and performance of each student was a “major task”. An important point that emerged from the discussion was how the CCE had challenged old concepts and initiated a change in the mindset of the educators. Ms Raman had talked of how teachers had been conditioned to conduct and appreciate performance evaluation only through pen and paper tests. They were now being asked to set aside their heavy dependency on this mode alone and open themselves out to a range of multiple parameters by which to arrive at an understanding of each student’s progress.
As I entered the campus of yet another old and prestigious CBSE school in Chennai, with Ms Raman’s inputs fresh in my mind, I wondered what the experience of the teachers here with the CCE had been. When I broached the subject of CCE, I was taken aback by their instantaneous indictment of the programme.
The biggest challenge the teachers were confronting was the attitudinal change in the children towards their studies. “There is little effort from the students, they declared. “Children are not learning as there are no examinations.” They have “stopped studying,” I was told definitively. Even the Summative Assessments are not taken seriously as “they are sure of being promoted.” The children are taking advantage as they know that the teachers have to award them minimum marks (5/10) regardless of how they fare in their assessment. The social sciences teacher expressed her regret that the students who prior to the introduction of CCE and its grading system had studied hard and secured excellent marks, were now thoroughly demotivated as the grades did not give them an edge.
The only redeeming feature of the CCE, they believed, was that there were no failures now. It is also “benefitting slow learners”. No sooner had I made a note of this, than the math teacher came over and showed me her register. Pages of data, marks and grades, had been painstakingly entered against the names of each student. She said it was gruelling work and they never had enough time to complete it in school. So work, perforce, had to be carried home. She recounted how she would wake up in the wee hours of the morning to finish the calculations of marks and entering them as there was always some deadline or the other to meet. “It’s really affecting [my] family life,” she ended despairingly.
I came away from this school realizing that all the teachers without exception had seemed very much in favour of the Board examination as the one way to get the students to work hard. Getting high marks and the competitive spirit were considered inviolable and sacrosanct in ensuring a relatively good “standard of education” and preparing the students for the tough task of taking the competitive exams later. In their minds, the CCE had indubitably disrupted this process.
I reached out to one of my teacher friends in Hyderabad who taught classes 9 and 10 in a much sought after CBSE school in the city. She concurred that the teachers are indeed “stressed out” as CCE adds to their usual work load. When I asked her about resistance to the new method from the teachers, she admitted candidly that, “nobody had really enjoyed” it; that they all had “reservations about the way things were being done”; that an enormous amount of thinking had to go in to designing activities for the class. They not only had to provide variety, but also cater to the different levels of competency in each class. But then, she also presented a balanced view of the evaluation process. “It is student friendly and reflects those scholastic assessments in which the student has performed to his optimum… Co-scholastic areas such as life skills, attitudes, values, co-curricular assessments, and health and physical education are considered and evaluated to provide feedback of the wholesome growth and development of the student.” This said, she felt it was necessary to reflect upon the “accuracy and objectivity with which these assessments are done as they have replaced the very objective, one time Class X Board Examination.” She also expressed her doubts as to the effectiveness of these evaluations, particularly in the co-scholastic areas. It was no mean task for a teacher in an Indian classroom to perform these evaluations when they had perhaps more than 30 students per class. Her final verdict on the CCE corroborated my own understanding of the core issue. “The success of CCE depends on the way it is implemented… as also on the availability of a vigilant and dedicated faculty who is committed to the cause of education and well-equipped to make the required assessments.”
As any policy, I suppose, it is one thing to formulate it on paper with all its benefits beautifully enumerated and quite another to actually implement it successfully, keeping to the spirit and letter of the original formulation. The CCE holds abundant promise in propagating a more child-centric approach to learning and assessing progress. However, its merit can justly be appreciated and made visible only in small classrooms or schools, where the sheer numbers of students to be evaluated do not overwhelm the teachers. Moreover, one wonders if the transition from the old to the new was too sweeping and immediate to allow teachers with a different sensibility to adjust to the legitimacy and validity of such an approach. It might have helped if the teachers in the various CBSE schools had been invited to attend a series of workshops focusing on the CCE over a period of time, wherein its positive aspects were highlighted. The workshops could also have addressed the concerns of the teachers. Rather than antagonizing the teachers and forcing them to adhere to the new evaluation system, they should have been inspired to adopt it by convincing them of its efficacy in nurturing students to become truly open-minded, explorative learners and not marks-obsessed, textbook-limited, “nerds”. At the end of the day, it is these very teachers who are needed to make the CCE genuinely work, these very teachers who can produce the desirable results or mar them, depending on their commitment to the process and their belief in it.
Given the new layer of complexity that CCE has introduced into a teacher’s work, a parallel industry appears to be emerging, just to “assist” with this process! Creating reports with the many parameters that the CCE has brought in has left many teachers floundering. Entering copious data on the computer for each student in a particular format involves a certain degree of proficiency that could be stressful and enormously time consuming. Some schools have chosen to engage external agencies which have developed software to enable the process of report generation as per the CBSE guidelines. One particular CCE mentor referred to these agencies as opportunists who must not be entertained. The purpose of preparing reports for each student is lost if certain standard comments are used without discrimination. The CBSE has provided certain “indicators” that can be used as comments if the student’s performance is in line with those comments. If not, the teacher must write one that is applicable to the concerned student. While the CBSE has come up with a software for the creation of reports, it is “complicated”, claims a teacher in a city school. Her school has developed its own in house software to facilitate its teachers. They now carry pen drives with them where they have saved the excel sheets into which they enter their data.
One year down the road, it seems that CBSE teachers have moved from the chaotic and laborious detailing that they were initially faced with, to a more organized and less confused structuring of work in the second year. While they haven’t totally accepted the change, they are learning to cope with it. It will be interesting to see how the CCE evolves in the future. Will it establish its undeniable value, not just externally, as a practice in the schools, but internally, in the minds of its practitioners and facilitators?
The author has been a high school English teacher and is someone who is passionately involved in the process of education in the country. She can be reached at [email protected].