"Through this exercise, we are perpetuating a highly competitive society, because the moment a parent or a student feels that they can improve (their score), they will jump onto the opportunity. But again, it’s not a guarantee that their grades will improve," said educationalist Dr Ameeta Mulla Wattal.
Dr Wattal, who is also the Chairperson (Education and Scholarship) of the DLF Foundation, was referring to the new policy under the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for School Education 2023, which states that board exams will now be conducted twice a year.
Rolled out by Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on 23 August, the framework states:
"Board examinations should be offered at least twice a year to ensure that students have enough time and opportunity to perform well. Students can then appear for a board examination in subjects they have completed and feel ready for," the NCF, which is a 600-page document, states.
The framework, however, doesn't clarify when the board exams will be slated in an academic year, whether both the exams will be mandatory for all students, when will it be implemented, and how the syllabus will be divided, if at all.
The Quint reached out to CBSE Chairperson Nidhi Chibbar and Controller of Examinations Sanyam Bhardwaj on some of these questions. The article will be updated as and when they respond.
Meanwhile, educationalists and school principals, who are in a quandary over the recent announcement, weighed in on whether the move will help decrease the burden on students or increase it.
'Two Boards Fantastic Idea if Syllabus Is Split'
"The idea to hold two board exams is fantastic. It will be comfortable for students if the syllabus for an academic year is split up. It will divide the pressure on students, too," Seema Prabhakar, Principal of Excelsior American School, Gurugram, told The Quint.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, board exams were held on semester-basis – and the better score of the two was retained. At that time, too, the syllabus was divided – only 25% of the syllabus of Semester 1 was asked in Semester 2. But students' performance in Semester 2 was significantly better than that in Semester 1."Seema Prabhakar, Principal of Excelsior American School, Gurugram
However, she said the timing of the rollout of the NCF may not be conducive. Schools are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic – and the innumerable changes it brought to the school education landscape, she explained.
She added that "the ecosystem of schools needs time – for parents and students to assimilate these changes, and for teachers and administrators to understand the nuances of NEP, divide the curriculum, and set exams."
Meanwhile, Wattal interpreted the draft differently. She said, "In my understanding, it is not mandatory for students to write two board exams. It would be insensitive if it became mandatory. For instance, if a student scores 98 percent in the first board exam, why should that student have to write the exam a second time?"
Calling the second board exam an "improvement exam", Dr Wattal told The Quint that it has been a part of the process for the last few years. This means that after the board exam, if a students wants, they have the option to sit for the improvement exam – and better their grade.
"The board exam results usually pour in by May. Between May and July, when the admissions start, students would have the opportunity to sit for the improvement exam. But during that time, there are a lot of professional exams such as CUET, JEE, NEET, etc. So, a student will have to prepare for a series of exams, which will be very tedious."Dr Ameeta Mulla Wattal
However, she underscored that the NCF document is a "draft" – and the measures are recommendations, not orders or mandates.
"They are feelers sent out by the education ministry to sensitise schools to the changes that will take place in the long run. They are not directives or orders," Dr Wattal said.
She added that while these recommendations are for the entire country, it is up to states and boards on how they want to implement them since education falls under the Concurrent List.
'Additional Language May Divert Attention From Core Subjects'
The NCF also states that students of classes 11 and 12 will have to pass in two languages instead of one, which is the current norm. Of these, at least one must be a language native to India.
Similarly, students of classes 9 and 10 will have to pass in three languages, instead of two, and two of these languages must be Indian.
While Dr Wattal was of the view that learning a new language is a "good policy," she asserted that the new language must be introduced in class 9.
"It's easier to learn languages from the ages of 6 to 16. It helps connect with people as well as the country. But it must be done empirically – starting from class 9 and going up till class 12."Dr Ameeta Mulla Wattal
Prabhakar, too, raised some concerns. "It is very difficult to teach and learn a new language in one year. The course cannot be completed in that time. There is little chance that a student would take up a new language in class 11 and sit for its board exam in class 12," she explained.
However, Sudha Acharya, Principal of ITL Public School, Dwarka, and Chairperson of National Progressive Schools' Conference (NPSC), argued that it would have been easier for students of classes 11 and 12 if the additional language could be "appreciated as an elective subject."
"Introducing a new language exposes the students to new cultures and is a welcome move. But it would have been easier for students if they could study the subject without the condition to pass in its exam."Sudha Acharya, Principal of ITL Public School, Dwarka
She added that learning a new language demands time and skill, and hence, is bound to shift the focus of students, especially those who are simultaneously preparing for competitive exams such JEE and UPSC.
Flexibility To Choose Subjects: Are Higher Education Institutions Ready for It?
In keeping with the tenets of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 that there is no hard separation between streams, the NCF also allows students of classes 11 and 12 to opt for subjects from different streams – Science, Commerce, or Humanities.
Although the educationalists welcomed the move, they point out at the gap that exists between schools and universities.
Acharya explained that it's not the CBSE that defined streams, but higher education institutions that compel schools to bind students into streams such as medical, non-medical, commerce, and humanities.
"As per the NEP 2020, schools have been offering a mix of subjects to students, such as Physics with Commerce subjects, Entrepreneurship with Humanities subjects, or Psychology with Medical Sciences. We are giving students the option to pick any five subjects, but are the higher education institutions ready for it?" she asked.
For instance, if a student chooses to study Physics, Mathematics and Psychology or Music instead of Chemistry, they cannot appear for the JEE exam.
"There are a lot of things that schools are being directed to do but the integration of those with universities does not seem to be taking place. There is a huge gap in that," Prabhakar stated.
She added that since it is the pre-requisites of higher education institutes that have shaped streams and a particular combination of subjects, the idea to move out from streams should start at the university level – and then move down to schools.
To this, Dr Wattal added that even though the announcements are "brilliant," they have left those who have to execute them – the teaching community – in a quandary.
"Teachers will have to change the pattern of how they set their papers, how they teach, how they divide their syllabus, among many other things. They have to undergo a lot of orientation and sensitisation to be able to execute these changes. The administrative process of the school will have to change too," Dr Wattal elaborated.