Before this Year’s Board Examinations, Learn the Real Reason India is a “Student Superpower”

Satire

Before this Year’s Board Examinations, Learn the Real Reason India is a “Student Superpower”

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The Board examinations are upon us, this time stated to be easier than ever before, and it is time to repeat an oft-quoted aphorism. You know the one I’m talking about – the one in which we get to tom-tom our superiority over the rest of the world. It’s a hard-to-prove statement, but we repeat it nonetheless. It’s the proud claim that India is a student superpower.

Something momentous happened about a decade ago. In many board examinations students were scoring very high marks, and so it has been ever since, with this “superintelligence” getting better with each passing year. Every year we set new records in academic excellence. I am referring to the increasing numbers of 12th standard students getting above 85, 90, 95, and now even up to 99 per cent, over the past few years. In the near­ future, this superintelligence may breach even the 100 per cent limit and we may be looking at the possibility of achieving super­perfection.

These superb achievements are thanks to our hardworking students, who not only study in schools, but also in coaching classes and during every free moment at home. This diligence is supported by their parents, who feed them brain-boosting snacks and pay handsome fees to super-efficient coaching classes. But the greatest credit has to go to the education boards which conduct these examinations, and their generous approach to awarding marks.

Social justice has been done, and the monopoly of Science and Mathematics in scoring 100 per cent marks has been broken, so that even subjects like English and Psychology can fetch full marks. In fact, the revenge of the Humanities has been so overpowering that Social Science students are outscoring their Mathematics and Science counterparts to top the board examinations. What a wonderful feeling it must be for these achievers to see totals like 499/500 (though some students have justifiably felt bad about missing out on a single mark which kept them short of total perfection).

We now have so many geniuses that we have run out of universities and institutions to accommodate them.

We now have so many geniuses that we have run out of universities and institutions to accommodate them. These hallowed institutions, which admit students strictly on the basis of board marks, have such high cut­offs that the institutions themselves develop a halo of greatness. And of course, the boards that have not followed such innovative practices are left with the not-­so-­bright students, languishing without admission into any higher education institution. Let that be a lesson for anyone considering taking their examinations under such low-­scoring boards.

Even a percentile-based system (top five per cent in every board) for college admissions is not of much help because there are so many students in the higher percentages from the more innovative boards that it would take the third decimal place difference in board examination marks to create ranks. For example consider the difference between 99.635 (first) and 99.631 (second). This is ironic for board examinations where an 85 per cent can be indistinguishable from a 95 per cent.

And then there is the very exciting mechanism of getting marks by moderation (unfortunately one cannot apply for these marks, it is just luck if you receive these). Media reports indicate that a student could get up to 15 “extra” marks in a single subject based on complaints of “difficulty levels” of a question paper (these are different from the grace marks that are given to the students who are just about failing). Truly, we should be grateful for this bonanza given so freely and generously to students. It has made the process of students waiting for their results much more exciting, like the anticipation of lottery results. Teachers even report that students scoring in the nineties in English, for instance, cannot really write a clean, competent paragraph. So this is like having a driving licence without knowing how to drive, or even better, like having a certificate of excellence in driving.  

Those who have tried to investigate such abundance of marks indicate that there are “unusual” spikes in the marks distribution. The most famous spike has been occurring at 95 per cent. It seems as if many low marks are “upgraded” to 95 and the original marks vanish. Therefore, no one got 81 or 82 or 83 in a paper because all of these morphed into numbers in the nineties, like 95. For some unknown reason the spike is designed to be at 95 (and not 97 or 99); perhaps this may change later, depending upon the generosity levels of board officials.

Those who have tried to investigate such abundance of marks indicate that there are “unusual” spikes in the marks distribution.

A few years ago, some boards started giving letter grades like A1, A2, B1, B2 etc because they were told by deluded, western-­trained liberals that in real life, marks like 92 and 96 are not really different, so giving a letter grade like A1 to both of them made more sense. This would also reduce the strong sense of competition that students were developing. Somehow, this never caught on, driven by parental pressure to “know the real marks”, and even more because letter grades cannot be used for creating merit lists or assigning student ranks. So while letter grades were awarded, a marksheet with the precise marks was also issued. A classic case of how the truth won. Such curiosity for the “real thing” is indeed the hallmark of a great nation.

I wish the students appearing for the exams this year the best of luck. But with benevolent boards like these, maybe they don’t even need it.

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