Thursday, 26 January 2012

Evaluate your life !

By Vidya Jonnalagadda

Well, we are constantly doing that – evaluating our life – in terms of health, wealth, and familial/social relationships. But have you assigned marks to it? Last year, my life scored 72.8/100 but the year before it was 69.3/100.

Does this sound preposterous? But this is where we are headed in terms of assigning numerical values, or marks - to put it simply, to all activities that our children are doing. If a certain news channel and celebrity endorsements that it has garnered become successful in changing the education policy (now why a news channel should seek to shape policy instead of reporting events and analyzing their implications is another matter), soon students will be awarded marks for games and sports.

How will this work? A child running 100 meters under 20 seconds will get 10 points and those running it between 20 and 30 seconds get 8 points? Score 2 goals in an inter-house football match and capture another 10 points? Play in an inter-school tournament and get 20 points? Will playing in a team event fetch more points than participating in an individual event? And what if a child “fails” in sports – will it affect their promotion/admission to the next class? Will we see the emergence of ‘sports tuition centers’ and ‘guess papers’ and ‘study guides’ to ensure success in the sports Units Tests and Final Exams?

I am not just questioning how marks will be awarded in a fair and transparent manner – I am disturbed by the very thought of awarding marks for everything a child does. Most of the teachers I meet are distressed about the marks-centric mindset of students (one of my students asked “What is biodiversity for 8 marks?”), parents (one teacher told me that a parent threatened to move her child to another school - “Arre, I am paying you so much and my child got only 79%? I should move him back to his old school where he used to get 80%!”), and management (one of my friends filling in for a KG teacher was told “Teach only 4 names of colors, then all students will get 100%. Their parents are paying our high fees, so they expect their children to score at least 90% (for a related story, please see previous blog ‘When is a vegetable not a ‘real’ vegetable?”)). The marks-centric approach has converted school textbooks into Units for 2 marks or 5 marks (in some cases, even fractional marks like 0.5 marks). Fortunes have been made by private bodies (I can’t call them ‘educational institutions’ since their only activity is getting students to repeatedly answer ‘model’ questions) catering to the quest for marks. I see in my college that students do not put in any effort to understand important subjects like ‘Science and Civilization’, ‘Indian History and Culture’, and ‘Environmental Studies’ since marks for these subjects are not ‘counted’ in calculating the final grade for their B.Sc. degree.

Have we reached the day where children will refuse to play (or paint or sing or dance) unless they get marks for their efforts? And, as adults, will they evaluate their lives on a numerical scale?


  1. Your comments are right on with respect to where the majority of children are facing. Sadly, the way we deal with the capability gaps created by this kind of an approach in the school is by offering more coaching - there is no shortage of motivational speakers that speak of the importance of communicating well.

  2. Nicely written Vidya. A mark centric approach can work for some kids but there are always many (maybe even a majority) who are in grave danger of losing themselves for many years only trying to "fit in".

  3. "there is no shortage of motivational speakers that speak of the importance of communicating well."
    There seems to be a strong belief amongst our educators that skills are imparted by telling people "how to". I wish I could learn to swim through a video lecture.
    Vidya, The Science and Civilisation course was my eye opener about how and why students learn way back in 1994. I had planned a nice lecture centered around Huxlet's Brave New World and then on Orwell's 1984. In retrospect I realise I was dumb.

  4. I am also unhappy about the craze for marks. Teachers who provide questions and answers become popular and 'highly rated' by students!

  5. I think the aim of this process is to find ways to promote the consideration of other talents in a child rather than just science and math. We have to find ways to do that. Although it would be ridiculous to grade children on how fast they ran or how high they jumped, we need to recognize their sporting (and others like music, dance, painting, drawing) talent and consider that before we give an A+ in tenth/twelfth standard. As our society is so mark oriented, this good idea of beginning to recognize children for their efforts in fields other than science and math, also has taken the same route. I think your implied suggestion that pursuing other activities like those stated above should be done for sheer interest/pleasure/beauty and not for reward will not work at this stage. Most parents will tell children that "your tennis is great, but if you want to pursue that, you have to first obtain 95% in studies" because they feel that their children need an engineering degree as a "back-up". The importance of promoting other aspects of a child's personality is not just about that talent, it is also the "peripherals" associated with it like competing with oneself to do better each time, the discipline of regular practice, the capacity to organize,team spirit, being independent, losing the fear of of not doing what everybody else is doing etc etc. This is what we need as a society and not highly paid engineers, majority of whom do not end up doing anything creative. Unfortunately, as one of your commentators pointed out, the solution for this is sending the child to another "personality development" class. The open field where such personality actually develops is considered a complete waste of time or to be done in addition to "excelling" in science and math. I think we need to debate about what is a good way to educate and encourage the society to recognize the importance of other "subjects"

  6. @Krishnaveni: You are right. When I was in school, we got marks/ grades for, music,sports, even needlework! Girls good at sports were lionised by juniors. The school sports captain was a school celebrity. So even if she was not good at science and math, she got her bit of glory in school. Every child should have his/her day in the sun. However, if this leads to mothers now bullying their puny little six year old to run faster in order to get 95% in sports, it would be a disaster.

  7. No one is contesting the value of outdoor activities in building a good personality (health and team spirit). The questions are:
    1. How can athletics be graded competitively? Should not a child running 100 m in 20 sec. "score" more than someone running it in 30 sec.? If marks in sports/games are to be considered for admission to colleges, then one has to have a "uniform, universal" scale to allow the colleges to compare the athletic prowess of students from different schools, right?
    2. More important - should every activity be done only for professional advancement? Can you imagine the psyche of a child who grows up doing everything only for marks? We are already seeing total disinterest in subjects where "marks are not counted" or perceived to be "dead ends, career-wise". Parents and teachers have to stop this proposed perverse policy of evaluating everything in terms of marks/grades.