The Big Story: Test cases

On March 28, the Central Board of Secondary Education announced that it would hold retests of the Class 12 economics exam and the Class 10 mathematics exam after reports emerged that the question papers had been leaked. The Delhi police have registered two cases in the matter. A special investigation team has been formed to investigate charges that include criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust and cheating. It is perhaps the first time that a leak has occurred on such a scale for an exam conducted at the national level. Going ahead, the administrators of our education system need to examine two issues carefully. First, the lapses in the system that enabled such a leak. Second, whether these lapses point to deeper flaws in the existing system of evaluation.

It must be identified when the papers were leaked, whether at the printing or distribution stage, or even earlier. The most immediate task for the board is to plug these gaps. So far, the CBSE’s response has not been ideal. It initially denied the economics paper leak and was only forced to acknowledge that something had gone wrong after it was discovered that handwritten versions of the Class 10 maths question paper were circulated on WhatsApp. Apart from the two papers that will have to be written again, rumours persist about the accountancy and sociology papers. These damage the credibility of an evaluation process that is key to the future of millions of students.

Which leads to the questions about the process itself. There has been much debate about whether a “high stakes” final exam by a central board can really measure a student’s ability or learning outcomes. Under the Right to Education Act, the previous government had attempted to introduce a system of continuous comprehensive evaluation, which tracked the progress of children through the school year and through a range of activities. The CBSE, which introduced the system in 2009, had made the Class 10 board examinations optional. They were held after seven years in 2018, when the National Democratic Alliance government scrapped the continuous comprehensive evaluation system. In the intervening years, it was found that the system had not worked. But the fault may lie more in the implementation than in the idea. Introduced without preparation and with poor teacher-student ratios, it had turned into a bureaucratic nightmare which was stressful for both teachers and students.

Yet big exams, which are largely based on rote learning but have disproportionate power to determine a student’s future, come with their own pressures. The flaws in the system have made cheating and leaks endemic in India. This year’s lapses should prompt a rethink. A more calibrated form of evaluation, both at the secondary and senior secondary levels, may work to relieve some of the pressures of the present system.

The Big Scroll

Shreya Roy Chowdhury reports on how the continuous comprehensive evaluation system was killed.

Also from Roy Chowdhury, a series on Uttar Pradesh’s cheating crackdown.


1. In the Indian Express, Sushobha Barve writes that restoring the 2003 ceasefire is the fire step to normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir.

2. In the Hindu, Pulapre Balakrishnan on the costs of “development” for agricultural communities and finding the right balance.

3. In the Telegraph, Mukul Kesavan writes on the fallacies of the word “ghetto”.


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