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Geared towards achieving parity with Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), a recent school education department circular lays down a series of reforms in the setting of question papers in state board schools. But experts warn against vested interests derailing the reforms. They also say that the performance and quality of students would be enhanced only if adequate infrastructure is created.

The circular says that from this year the blueprint system will not be followed. In the blueprint system, exam questions are drawn only from a question bank, and students prepare answers only for these. Last year, educationists say, the blueprint system was not followed, especially in Class 10, but without prior announcement. This year, the announcement has been explicit. “Without prior intimation or announcement the question paper pattern was changed. Despite this, the students managed to keep their performance up,” says P. K. Ilamaran, state president of Tamil Nadu Teachers Association.

Educationist Prince Gajendra Babu says that performance came down marginally because of the abolition of the blueprint. “Up until the 1980s, there was no blueprint system. Questions were asked from anywhere in the textbook. Only after the boom in private schools, blueprint system came into vogue to showcase the performance of these schools,” says Prince Gajendra Babu, educationist.

Supporting this circular, Balaji Sampath, educationist, says even in CBSE half the questions are easy and straightforward but getting 90% is tough. Question papers should aim towards that, he says, adding that the next step should aim not just at thorough learning of the textbook but also simple applications of concepts.

The circular does talk about encouraging creative and higher order thinking through the question paper and lays down that a majority of the questions will be from outside the textbooks. But this would be quite a leap for state board students, many say. “The first step would be asking questions in exams with slight changes to what appear in textbooks. For instance, the numbers in the problems could be different from what is there in the textbook,” says Sampath. But he is skeptical if a majority of the questions can be from outside the textbooks. “State board so far has ensured that there is no value in learning outside the textbooks,” he adds.

“The first step would be asking questions in exams with slight changes to what appear in textbooks. For instance, the numbers in the problems could be different from what is there in the textbook,” — Balaji Sampath.

Sampath is confident that if the policymakers have the will the state board syllabus and question papers can be on a par with CBSE within two or three years. “For 2018, the textbooks for Classes 1, 6, 7, 9 and 11 have been changed but Class 12 remains unchanged. By 2020, we would be ready as far as textbooks are concerned,” adds Ilamaran.

Sampath says the textbooks introduced this year are top quality. In some cases, they even go beyond CBSE, he adds. “What has been introduced is a good measure. It will help our students become more competitive,” says Gajendra Babu. Listing the changes, Ilamaran says this year students can read their textbooks from their mobile phones too using QR codes.

 Sampath, however, warns that there will be pressure from parents, teachers as well as vested interests in schools against these reforms. He is skeptical if well meaning decision-makers in government can withstand the pressure and if they will be allowed to continue.  “These reforms will take effect only if there are enough teachers in government schools and if serving teachers come regularly and take classes. The teachers should be well qualified and trained,” says Gajendra Babu.

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