A board of exams would have to be a board that prepares assessments of learning while independent bodies (state boards, or central boards) that frame the curriculum would be preparing the learners to be assessed for learning. It is evident, therefore, that for reforms to take place in school education, we need to have two separate bodies, one that frames the curriculum, and another that examines whether learning has indeed taken place.
The system in our country works fairly well with the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) working on the curriculum and training of teachers and printing of books and study material, while the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) ideally works in the field of assessments and examinations. The States however have their own exams and boards while having of course the equivalent of the NCERT, except that they are called SCERT (State Council of Education Research and Training) and a separate Board exam at the grade ten and the grade twelve levels in which the question paper is different from that prepared by the CBSE.
The ICSE (Indian Council for Secondary Education) is yet another board which is run on the Cambridge Pattern and it differs in curriculum and assessment from the CBSE and the NCERT. The problem arises when students who graduate from the different boards, the CBSE, State Boards, and the ISC/ICSE boards at the grade twelve level come up with widely differing marks. With the ISC/ICSE, it is about scoring fewer marks, while the same might be said of students appearing for their Grade twelve exams from the state boards. Students appearing for their grade twelve exams from the CBSE Board might, however, score in the higher nineties! Unfortunately, the marks are not standardized and a student scoring above ninety-five percent from the CBSE in his or her best of four subjects might not be half as good as a student scoring seventy-five per cent in the ISC grade twelve exam of the ICSE board! Students appearing from the state boards might not even be lucky enough to pass!
Academic rigour, and marks apart, it is clear that the different examination boards and curriculum framing bodies in the country are working at loggerheads with each other. The learners and students are, unfortunately at the receiving end, especially when they seek admission in some of the centrally run universities in the country. It is clear that in their obsession for numbers of students who graduate from school, some boards might even be resorting to so-called moderation strategies, which would happily see their students sailing out of school. Unfortunately, in their haste to inflate figures of pass outs, and perhaps happily claim to have done their job of educating the youth, these boards are in fact ruining the lives of the very people whom they claim to have provided an education.
One very harsh fact is that very few students who pass out of schools today are future ready; very few are equipped with twenty-first-century skills, hardly any have sound research skills, and barely a few know what they are going to do after grade twelve. A large percentage of students who opt for engineering end up doing tasks unsuited to their professional qualification. In a world that is steadily moving away from traditional work skills and instead is paving the way to welcome Artificial Intelligence, and Augmented Reality if not Virtual Reality, we remain stuck in a system of education that is mostly teacher-centered and dependent on chalk and blackboard.
It is clear that our educational system at the K-12 level needs a major revamp. Modern education calls for continuous evaluation and differential assessments. The now defunct Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation might have had a positive objective but then it failed because of poor implementation, overloaded classrooms, and poor planning. C.C.E. failed because it was not backed with standardized protocols and objectives. So what was happening across schools was that there was no accountability nor any parity between the kind of tools used for Formative assessments. In many cases, marks entered under Formative Assessments were not, in any case, true scores, nor did they really measure learning in the true sense.
The gap between schools using IT and those not even having adequate infrastructure as for example, schools in rural areas is increasing as time passes. The increased call for digitization, and with it, the dependence on online transactions, online projects, and online registrations has meant that while IT literate students manage to handle technology efficiently, those who are not tech savvy are helpless and they have to look for help elsewhere.
While educationists might argue that it would be impossible to bring all the students of the country under one curriculum, what with differences based on Cultural Diversity, Geography, Language, Economic and Social backwardness; it might be argued that the setting up of minimum or basic standards of skills expected of students at each grade level could at least provide some level of standardisation across all schools in the country.
The need of the hour is to have a standard Curriculum framework that sets up benchmarks of skills expected of students in the beginning and at the end of each grade level. These standards need to be set for each subject, and to address the deficiency in IT skills in some schools, there should be a separate set of standards for IT skills expected of students at all grade levels irrespective of whether the school is located in the rural areas of the country, or for that effect urban areas. A setting up of standards for IT skills will ensure that the basic minimum requirement for internet connectivity and the availability of Tablet P.Cs, laptops or even desktops is guaranteed by state education departments.
Strangely enough, I can see three major stakeholders in school education in the country today, and these include the Central Board of Secondary Education, State Boards of Secondary Education, the National Council for Educational Research and Training, the State Council for Educational Research and Training, and of course the Executive bodies of the Zonal Education departments. All of these stakeholders of Education need to be aligned to a common objective, and their areas of competence need to be clearly defined. If there is a National Policy of Education, then there needs to be a National Policy of Information Technology in Education, and there needs to be also a National Policy of Teachers Education, all of which are aligned to a common core of state education standards.
The socio-cultural diversity and the linguistic range of students in India call for a unification and standardization or benchmarks of student learning and skills at each grade level rather than a single board system. Having a single Education Board for the whole country would result in stretching of resources and the handling of too many areas in the field of education. Having a single Education Board should not mean that it imposes the same curriculum all over the country. States should have the right to have their own tailor-made, differential curriculum that caters to the requirements of the state. Standards, however, can be set up to be followed and there should be a central body to ensure that all the state boards and curriculum follow the document of standards. This does not in any way mean that we don't have standards at present. The only thing is that some of these standards are too vague and weakly defined. We need to have Common Core Standards similar to the ones we have in America.The Common Core State Standards of America document has a detailed and specific set of standards for each skill in each subject area at each grade level! A lot of effort and time would go into the framing of such a document in the country, but it would certainly be a good investment.