By putting forward an idea, the new HRD minister has indicated that the education system in India is open to reform! I personally believe that this should open the floodgates to further ideas rather than catching one suggestion and taking sides on it. Making a particular board examination optional is perhaps trying to solve only one aspect of the various in our educational system: that of the stress faced by the students. However, it does not tackle the problem of 'education for all'. This is basically due to the rigidities of an educational system, which makes it necessary to have infrastructure and schools to impart education. This in turn creates 'elitism' in the sense that schools that have infrastructure and facilities are seen to create 'good' students, leading to discrimination during selection for higher education with the ‘good’ schools’ students getting into the cream institutions of higher learning. Britain is today realizing this 'elitism' problem in the admissions for Oxford and Cambridge (This is also clearly seen in the case of the proposal to reserve seats in Maharashtra at the 10th level for local SSC board students’ vis-à-vis other boards like CBSE and ICSE for college admissions). The common examination system actually removes this 'elitism' and equates all those who appear for the same and are evaluated on that basis. It also provides a measure of comparison for further studies or branching out. The rigidity of the school system remains even if the board examination at the 10th level is made optional since the prescribed syllabus and the school determines the progression of a student. It also makes it necessary for a student to attend a 'school' with the traditional connotation of attached infrastructure. This is the one major reason that universal education cannot be achieved in this country. The progression rigidity through the educational system also creates stress in students with learning disabilities and economic problems.
My opinion is that there should be optional board exams at all levels-4th, 7th, and 10th with a minimum uniform prescribed syllabus throughout the country on the basis of the requirements of education at each level. Any capable student, whether attending a 'elite' school, municipal school, village school or learning at home, should be permitted to appear for these exams. The 'elite' schools can opt out of the optional lower level exams but follow the minimum prescribed syllabus with whatever additional learning they wish to provide to their students in order to differentiate their schools. This will also provide valuable inputs for the basic education system syllabus. The optional examination system could also include evaluation for projects and practicals. The students with learning difficulties and those facing economic problems will not face stress since they can appear for the exams only when 'able' (in the economic or the capability sense of the term). They will be able to enter back into the educational system at any stage rather than the necessity of starting all over at the beginning in a rigid educational system. The schools that do not have the infrastructure can utilize 'common' infrastructure made available to a pool of schools in a particular area for practicals at the higher levels. The optional examination system will also permit branching at all education levels for vocational courses to those who wish to opt out of the educational system.
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