There has been considerable embarrassment lately over the discovery that the Congress government of Tarun Gogoi had indulged in the generous award of grace marks to candidates of the High School Leaving Certificate (HSLC) examition of the Board of Secondary Education, Assam (SEBA) between the years 2001 and 2013. The Congress government came to power in Assam after the HSLC examitions for 2001 had taken place. As such, the direct intervention of the ruling Congress in the matter of examition results would relate to the HSLC examitions held from 2002 to around 2013. But what is indeed very evident is that the percentage of successful candidates in the HSLC examitions went from a mere 33.27 in 2001 to 70.71 per cent in 2013 with the annual increases in the percentage of success being kept down to four or five per cent every year (with the highest rate of annual increase kept at seven per cent). But even this moderate rate of annual increase in the percentage of successful candidates resulted in the percentage of success increasing from 33.27 in 2001 to 70.71 in 2013. What has not come into the picture unfortutely (despite the miserable success rates) is that prior to 2001 there had been occasions when the percentage of success had been as low as 26.
The revelation made in the Assam Assembly by Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma about this increase in the percentage of successful candidates between 2001 and 2013 has resulted in considerable embarrassment within the Education Department as well as in the Board of Secondary Education, Assam. Considering that the revelation has come from no less a person than the Education Minister of the State, everyone connected with SEBA or the HSLC examitions is now working overtime to deny the allegation that this gradual increase in the percentage of successful candidates was at the behest of the Education Minister. Almost everyone connected with the HSLC examitions has come out with statements that the Education Minister had never interfered in the announcement of the HSLC examition results at any time. This is something that will inevitably be taken with a large pinch of salt considering that the annual increases in the percentages of successful candidates have been carefully orchestrated and aimed at ebling the government to claim spectacular success rates by around 2013. After all, to show that the percentage of successful candidates increased from 33.27 per cent in 2001 to 70.71per cent in 2013, there had to be a fairly carefully orchestrated annual increase in the success rates so as not to astonish those in the academic world. Obviously, such instructions were invariably given orally. This also made it easier for everyone connected with the HSLC examitions to come out with instant denials of government interference in the results of the HSLC examitions.
The grace marks were truly generous and calculated to make almost every candidate clear the HSLC examitions. Up to 18 grace marks were awarded for four of the six subjects of the HSLC examitions, and such grace marks in the four subjects increased from seven in 2004 to 18 in 2010. For those candidates who secured less than 30 marks in General Science, compulsory Mathematics, English and Social Studies, there was provision for the award of seven to 18 grace marks for every subject. If a candidate maged to secure only 25 marks after the award of grace marks, there was provision for granting him or her five additiol grace marks. In order to help HSLC candidates who had maged to secure only 50 per cent of the pass marks in practicals, the remaining 50 per cent marks were awarded as additiol grace marks. For candidates who had failed in two subjects, there was provision for awarding a maximum of 20 grace marks in both the subjects and a maximum of 16 grace marks for one subject. If, even after the award of grace marks, a candidate maged to secure only 175 marks, he or she was awarded five additiol grace marks to reach the minimum of 180. Not surprisingly, the award of grace marks of the four main subjects increased substantially from seven in 2004 to 18 in 2010.
There have been statements from those connected with the SEBA in the past that grace marks were part of the academic culture of most boards of secondary education in India, and that SEBA saw no reason not to take advantage of a common practice. What some people connected with examitions may not be aware of is that in most advanced countries of the world a much higher percentage of candidates succeed in their school leaving examitions without any kind of grace marks. Let us take the percentage of success and candidates in the HSLC examition of SEBA in the year 2001. A success rate of 33.27 per cent indicates that 66.73 have failed in the examition. There is no civilized country where 66.73 per cent of the candidates deserve to fail in the school fil examition. In fact, a much higher percentage of the candidates deserve to pass without the assistance of any grace marks. Even 70.71 per cent is not a good enough rate of success. The normal success rate in most European countries is above 95 per cent. As such, the politicization of grace marks is not any laudable service to our HSLC examinees. In fact, it is about the worst form of disservice being done to our school students. They are being fed the illusion that they have passed when they have not. This is the worst form of deception and dishonesty that can hit our school children. Even failure is preferable to the kind of deception that they are being subjected to. All that we have maged to prove is that there is something seriously amiss with our education system (since students need grace marks to pass) and that we are unwilling to face our real problems.