With both the Class XII and Class X CBSE board exam results being announced over the past few days, students across the country have been gearing up for a crucial phase in their lives. For Class X students, the board results determine their subject stream and future career path. For Class XII students, it is all about getting into the right college or university, which is often prefaced by multiple competitive entrance exams. The Indian education system is a long race where students have to jump through multiple hurdles.
This puts considerable pressure on the students. The premium on exams ensures that learning takes a back seat and everything is oriented towards obtaining a good score. Students who fail to crack these exams often plunge into depression and, in extreme cases, even commit suicide. For example, in Telangana more than 20 students have committed suicide after the state board released results for Class XI and Class XII exams.
True, the CBSE Class XII results this time saw a whopping 94,299 students score 90% and above. But that is indicative of the other problem with the education system – grade inflation. The latter only increases cut-off marks for university entrance which in previous years have already touched an absurd 100% in some streams. Hence, a high score in Class XII is no guarantee of admission to a quality university. Taken together, there are multiple distortionary forces at play within the education system. On one end, there is a shortage of quality institutes of higher learning. On the other end, school learning levels themselves are falling due to the excessive emphasis on exams.
The net result is that we are producing a subpar labour pool with low skills. This has even been confirmed by Niti Aayog which says that 53% of those coming out of India’s higher education institutions are not employable. Another distortion is that despite girls consistently outperforming boys in board exams, the participation of women in the workforce has been declining. Overall, we are simply not preparing our students for the modern job market and haven’t even begun to address challenges posed by the coming of artificial intelligence. We need to massively invest in vocational training and provide greater autonomy to schools and universities, unshackling them from government bureaucracy. Alas, even in this election season, education is not a major campaign issue.