TN to reduce portions after poor assessment tests: Is this a sign that online classes failed for government school students?

A senior official from the department said that the assessment tests had over 100 MCQs on all subjects and some students couldn’t even get through five questions correctly
Representative Image
Representative Image

The Tamil Nadu Education Department is now contemplating further reducing the syllabus for Class 10, 12 students after a large number of them performed poorly in the assessment tests that were conducted on their return to schools. The authorities are apparently worried that the online classes didn’t work, especially for government school students who had difficulty even accessing the classes. Large sections had to make do with the ‘Kalvi TV’ to attend classes. 

A report in DT Next said that even in some self-financing schools, students performed quite poorly. A senior official from the department told the paper that the assessment tests had over 100 MCQs on all subjects and some students couldn’t even get through five questions correctly. Prior to the government insisting on online classes and when we were all still coping with COVID-19 outbreak, many activists were against online classes. The activists insisted that most students especially from socially and economically backward families would not be able to access the classes and it would be unfair for only some students to benefit from it. Some students had only one gadget at home and there was no way of sharing between siblings and no way to afford the data as well.

One of the activists who was not in favour of online classes Prince Gajendra Babu, he was demanding a zero year insisting that the environment was not conducive for children to learn. “After asking students to watch Kalvi TV all day, how can the education department expect that students will access these assessment tests?” Prince asks. “This only goes to show that the education department hasn’t learnt anything. There has been no learning outcome. How can a TV be a classroom? Learning needs to have interactions, how would students be able to ask questions and doubts to a TV?” he questioned. He added that during a pandemic the students feel alone and isolated, so where would there be scope for any kind of academic or personal development.

“Government and small schools had no way of coping with online classes. Many had to relocate to their hometowns due to economical hardships,” Krishna Kala Baskaran, a former government school teacher and administration now currently pursuing his Masters degree in Education at TISS. “For NEET, the Centre has said in order to be fair, they will increase the number of attempts for candidates. Something like that would nor work for board exams, where the stakes are much higher, so reducing the portions and making the exam easier for students is the only way,” he added

PK Ilamaran, the President of the Tamil Nadu Teachers Association says that for students to study properly, they need the teachers to constantly remind them and do revisions. That is impossible with online classes, “With TV, it is one-way communication. So how do we get students to do their work and keep learning when there is no interaction? So it’s understandable that the students have forgotten,” he explained. In the last one week since classes resumed, he said that teachers have just been trying to motivate students and make the environment more conducive for learning. “Even if such tests are held, we should tell students their marks because they will immediately feel disappointed and will want to give up on their studies entirely,” he says, adding that a 50 per cent reduction, however, would be best in the current scenario. 

Mahalakshmi Kannan, who teaches at a government school for tribal children in Tiruvannamalai says that other teachers are telling her that they are getting students just enough to pass the exam. “Covering all the portions is too much for teachers, it is burdening them. So now they’ve told their students that they will teach them enough for them to get 40 per cent. So now students feel that portions haven’t been reduced for them and they have to learn most of it anyway and this scares them,” she said. She says students are also feeling that only the easy parts have been made an option and all the difficult portions have been retained and this doesn’t reduce the pressure on students.

“The teachers are not preparing students for a centum any more,” she adds. She feels that the online class initiative has completely failed especially for students in tribal regions like hers, “Children need constant interactions to be able to learn well. Our students don’t even have electricity at home, some don’t even have homes. They don’t have signal issues because there are no gadgets. In Kerala, the classes were live, here students just had to watch TV. How could they have possibly learnt anything?”
Krishna also adds that even in general government teachers are an overworked lot. So covering 60 per cent of the portions in three months is a humongous burden, he said. “Even in peak COVID-19 period, teachers were out doing work, administrative duties at school and other government duties. A multitude of factors have come into play if we have to understand why online classes don’t work. It needs to be studied further,” Krishna tells us. “Teachers were only given a few weeks of training to equip themselves to switch to online classes. Teachers with two, three decades of experience were suddenly restricted from their teaching and expected to upskill in a matter of weeks,” he points out.

“Even children from affluent families would have found it difficult to learn through online classes. Only an exceptional number of children probably benefited but we can’t take decisions based on exceptions,” Prince believes. Mahalakshmi agrees, “What about the ones who don’t learn fast, the ones who take time?  How do they keep pace? Only the exceptional ones remember all the portions, most have forgotten what they’ve learnt.”

The activist feels that the fact that schools have reopened only for students attempting public exams this year shows that schools want to collect fees, “Only coaching centres and private schools will benefit because students will be forced to pay fees. Coaching centres will also be in demand for NEET, IIT, JEE and other training. If exams are cancelled, these centres will lose revenue. The education department is least bothered about social and academic development of students,” he complained. If the situation had become safer, the activist questioned why other classes had not resumed.

Mahalakshmi also suspects only private schools and coaching classes would benefit from schools reopening and exams being conducted. “Several students are already giving up and turning to child labour, some have been married off. The GER that we are so proud of will also go down if we burden students so much,” she asks.

She also tells us that the fear of COVID itself hasn’t fully gone for students and coming to classes with that fear will distract them from studies as well, “I’m so scared to cough. Children immediately ask if it is COVID. Even children in villages are worried. They may run around and be happy but teachers travel from place to place and students are worried for their health.”

“Students need to have a grasp of concepts, formula, language and its application. How can you ensure this happens without popper teaching?” he asks. The activist feels that proper classes should be conducted for five months and then a call must be taken on whether students are ready for exams. “We can’t decide right now what they are capable of. We can’t just randomly cut syllabus as well. We need to know how the students are coping, five months later, we can take a call on exams,” Prince feels. Mahalakshmi opined that switching to a grade system would be more fair, “The government is offering options and opportunities. But I don’t see any sign of equity anywhere.”

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