The first two days of this month were witness to two major events of the State. The High School Leaving Certificate (HSLC) examition results were announced on Wednesday and the Higher Secondary examition results were announced on Thursday. At the same time, there was a special session of the Assam Assembly to eble the newly-elected members of the Assembly to be sworn in. For once, the examition results were deemed more important than the Assembly session with the newly elected MLAs. One of the reasons for this must be that after many years of rather dismal examition results, the percentage of successful candidates was impressively high in both the examitions. One recalls the days two or three decades ago when the number of successful candidates in the HSLC examition of the Board of Secondary Education, Assam (SEBA) was less than 27 per cent. It meant that over 72 per cent of the examinees had failed in the examition. This is a highly abnormal situation for any society, and the success rate of 62.79 per cent of the latest HSLC examition is closer to what is considered normal in civilized societies. In fact, in most civilized countries, the normal success rate is considered close to 100 per cent. In that respect, the Higher Secondary examition results declared on Thursday, with a success rate of 90.96 per cent in Science were better because they were closer to the ideal of 100 per cent! [What people tend to overlook is that a success rate of below 27 per cent really means an even lower rate of success. After all, those who scrape through with a third division are unlikely to be able to secure admission for higher studies in any college, and can be deemed to have failed on that account.]
There is no denying that examition methods and norms have changed vastly during the last half-century or so. So have the cut-off marks required to secure admission to a good college. Just think of the marks that Sarfraz Hussain who stood first in the HSLC examitions this year secured. He got 590 marks out of 600 (or 98.33 per cent) in six subjects, losing just 10 marks (or 1.66 per cent) in all subjects taken together. In the 1940s and 1950s, even the one who stood first could not have dreamed of such high marks. Objective type questions, as well as very short answer and short answer type questions have changed the examition scerio very drastically. There can be no objection to students getting high marks. But there ought to be serious introspection over the academic scerio where a pass percentage of below 27 per cent gets doubled the very next year. Obviously, no one has a magic wand that makes such radical changes in overall student performance in a single year even remotely possible. So what has been happening is adjusting or doctoring of marks to make the results look better even when it is impossible to make them better in just one or two years. When the success rate doubles in just one year, the real conclusion to draw is that the standard of teaching has improved phenomelly in all our schools in just one year. This cannot happen in the best of circumstances. Hence the obvious conclusion to be drawn is that there has been some ‘doctoring’ of the examitions (like adding grace marks liberally or making questions easier) to get the fancy results that education ministers would want secondary education boards to produce in a hurry. But when an examition is doctored for populist reasons by making it easier or adding grace marks liberally to the scores, the examition has been made totally unreliable and therefore worthless. There are reasons to believe that this has actually happened. After all, how can success rates be remarkably higher than earlier success rates in a scerio where we have a chronic shortage of teachers? So, if the Board of Secondary Education, Assam or the Higher Secondary Council has doctored examitions to be able to show more impressive results, they should desist from such practices immediately because they destroy examitions and make them worthless. We do not want anyone playing games with our school fil examitions.