50.

Learning is an essential skill used by any sentient life-form to survive changes in the environment and for the progression of their species. Human beings, as a species, have taken this form of learning to another level that has enabled us to manipulate our surroundings to suit us. This evolution of learning through our own actions has now reached a pace that seems difficult to catch up to, if we continue to stand by and practice the old (didactic) learning practices.

A​s we look at the progress of learning through the ages – from an informal environment of Socratic dialogue, to institutionalized learning in formal schools and colleges, to information and knowledge now being available at our fingertips (literally!) through our palm-sized electronic devices, it seems to me that we’ve come a full circle – that education and learning cannot be confined physically and can now happen within the comfort of the student’s own home.

T​he rapidly changing ways of dissemination of information demands flexibility and high adaptability of educators and other stakeholders of formal school environment. Failure to do so, in my opinion, will lead such institutions to lose relevance and become relics of a bygone era. I wholly agree with the idea that educators must learn not only about learning, but also about their subject of choice, psychology, sociology, political science and law. This kind of diverse knowledge will allow teachers and educational administrators to be adaptable and flexible to ‘new learning’

* * *

The buzz created by the creation of the National Education Policy (NEP) in India was rightfully a positive one. In its structure and language, it has taken care of the concerns of all stakeholders of education, i.e. students, their parents, teachers, administration and management of educational institutions. B​y regulating education from the ages of 3 -21/22, the policy takes the responsibility of not just academic education, but also the social education of the student, i.e. morals, ethics, and to raise citizens of India (Bharat). It has also touched upon the nutritional concerns of the younger students, and thereby take care of the students’ physical education as well. T​he intentional diversity of subject choices for higher education is a welcome move for students of a society that largely pushes the younger generation towards STEM or Medical field, irrespective of the student’s choice. This decision, in the long run, will encourage youngsters to learn more about the subject of their choice, and to me, seems to be a push towards authentic pedagogy.

M​y concerns, despite all the positive points mentioned above, is that in the implementation of the policy, many directives will lean towards didactic pedagogy. I agree with the lesson that didactic pedagogy is essential, however, the NEP looks to enrich that pedagogy by introducing authentic pedagogy and ‘new learning’. My hope is that with a new generation of stakeholders, the implementation is successful in ushering a new era of public education in a vast and diverse country like India.

I​n my opinion, the NEP as a public policy is effective in addressing several concerns of the stakeholders in the education sector. It gives one the impression that the government and its associate bodies are deeply concerned of the overall well-being of the student, irrespective of the political and socio-economic differences that will arise due to the nature and range of diversity of the Indian population across the country. It directly tackles several practices that are rooted in didactic pedagogy and transforms them into authentic pedagogy, and recognizes the need to adapt to reflexive pedagogy in order to make the graduates from the Indian education system competitors on a global platform.

However, the points put forth in any op-ed that critically evaluates the NEP for secularism and democratic values do make me stop and think. Upon a second reading of the policy, the criticism that is awarded to the NEP is well-founded, wherein those of historically oppressed tribes and cases will be at a disadvantage due to the financial aspects of the policy. The change of administration and leadership of universities to a seemingly non-democratic appointment does bring in the threat of monotony and need to ‘know the right people’ to achieve merits in university. These aspects remind me of the point that even progressivist learning can contribute to inequality, which seems to go against the notion of creating global-minded citizens of Bharat.

O​verall, I believe that implementation of this policy can change its weaknesses to strengths. I strongly believe that the policy paves the way for reflexive pedagogy at all levels of learning and education, and we as teachers in this transformative time, can be the ones to bring it to the fore.

49.

The armed forces of a nation are an indispensible part of its identity. Through most of my readings on Indian history: be it textbooks, articles in newspapers or on the internet, the military has received high praise, and hence, has continued to be a source of immense pride. As an Indian citizen, I am in awe of my fellow nationals who volunteer to be part of the Indian Army. I associate such individuals with fearlessness, vigor and incredible mental and emotional strength. Due to the large citizen population in the country, the Indian Army does not face a dearth of volunteers to join the military, and thus mandatory military service is not the norm. However, many countries around the world do compel their citizens to have military service for a limited period of time. It must be known that ‘military service’ includes non-combat roles as well – roles that support troops as they prepare for, and engage in, warfare. Such roles are logistics, intelligence gathering, research & development, medical training, to name a few.

The military is an institution in and of itself. It has its own social structure; a culture, and traditions that become a crucial part of its members’ psyche. I’ve observed that most men and women who have a military service record have a duality wherein they are highly reasonable; their thought processes rooted in empiricism, and have strong instincts about people; yet they do not discredit faith and the presence of an Almighty. This observation is not restricted to the servicemen and women alone – it is reflected in their family members as well. The culture of Army personnel is one that inspires poise, grace and nerves of steel.

The age at which a person is required to complete their military training and clock in their service is an important factor when considering the benefits of mandatory military service. When an individual is 18 years old, he or she is expected to have completed one’s high school education, and thus, is expected to be able to follow rules and traditions of the Army quite easily. It is a significant period in an individual’s life – it can determine the kind of adult this person will be. Over the next two or even three years, this individual is groomed to have stronger mental capacity than their ‘civilian’ counterparts and learn the ability to withstand stressors; they are inculcated with strong disciplinary values and ethics – in short, they turn into responsible, reliable adults. This point has been vouched for repeatedly, for many years, by members from all sections of society.

An often over-looked feature is how military service affects families, especially the spouses and partners of those employed by the military. In a country where military service is compulsory for all citizens irrespective of gender, there is a greater acceptance between partners as they have undergone similar experiences in their formative years of adulthood. For countries where obligatory military service is restricted to the male populace, their partners would have understanding for their way of life as they would have been raised with fathers, brothers or other family members who have had the same training.  

Most countries that have mandated military service for its youth are those that are locked in geographical, political, and/or military conflict for an extended period of time, such as Iran, Israel, South Korea and North Korea, to name a few. These countries have a relatively small population as well. Conscription ensures that the entire population is accounted for as ‘reserve troops’; should the need arise over short notice, these individuals can be called upon to serve the country. It has been noted that being a part of the military encourages active civic duty, develops a sense of pride for the nation, and perhaps most importantly, creates social bonds between individuals from different socio-economic, ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. In this day and age, where finding differences seems to be convention, the army provides an umbrella under which all individuals can find a role that provides meaningful contribution to the working of the military establishment. 

Newspaper articles from countries where the mandatory military service was phased out temporarily during peacetime (Sweden and Germany) show support to the idea of mandatory military service for reasons mentioned in the earlier section of this essay. Countries that have imposed compulsory military service for its youth (Israel) have noted an increased positivity for the nation, increased acceptance of citizens of Israel, and an overall well-being of all members of the community.

Over the last decade, many countries have considered conscription seriously for its citizens between the ages of 18 – 25 years. France is one such notable example – President Macron has proposed required military service in light of the recent disturbance of peace in France and the European Union. In the Middle East: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have made conscription as law. These countries have instituted this directive as a response to the prolonged unrest in the region, and to protect its sovereignty against legitimate and powerful threats. 

In many cases, conscripts do not match up to volunteer soldiers because they are given basic training as opposed to a more rounded, complete training given to a volunteer soldier. In a battlefield, this lack of rigorous training could be detrimental not only to oneself but also to fellow soldiers who are engaged in combat. Countries that enforce conscription for its youth do not find it difficult to replenish their forces; however, they do find themselves in need of individuals who can take over military command. This leads to a high demand for individuals with leadership skills, which leads to positions of command and authority remaining unfilled, but a surplus of eager personnel that are fit for combat, logistics and intelligence gathering. An effective army, navy and air force is one where there are competent officers to train, and lead their juniors into combat situations.   

Voluntary military service ensures that members of society who wish to pursue alternate career paths are not derailed by a few years of mandatory military service. In an increasingly competitive work environment, these two or three years can be crucial to set up a favorable career trajectory immediately after completing one’s education. Volunteer cadets can opt for non-combat roles after they finish their education, and hence they will be more motivated to contribute effectively to the military, as opposed to being forced to do it. This ensures high quality solutions, innovation in technical as well as strategic aspects of the military. It also addresses the need for military officers, since a university education can enhance and nurture leadership skills in an individual.

Mandatory military service places a large economic burden on the country. The army has to take care of, train, and educate their conscript which demands a significant portion of the country’s budget every year. In addition to this, the bureaucratic machinery required to proficiently track and enroll its citizens into the military is an additional expense of the taxpayer’s money. After the recruits have completed their training, they need to be assigned to a branch of the military that is best suited for their skills; in a populous country like India, this can be a herculean task as it demands many resources and funds that can be more effectively used elsewhere, both within and without the military. 

Many decriers of mandatory military service argue that binding military service of any duration is an infringement of a fundamental human right – freedom. Obligatory military service goes against the principles of Humanism; forcing youth to join the military will coerce individuals into a system of which they do not want to be a part. Many young adults today have a romanticized view of combat and the military, largely due to how it is represented in movies, books and other forms of entertainment; this is harshly corrected in the strict, traditional environment of the army. Such a drastic change from expectation to reality may not be well-received by some, and hence, may lead to mental and emotional difficulties. 

Compulsory military service targets the youth, which can adversely affect their families as well. These young men and women may go to the military happily; however their parents and other older family members may not be contented by it. Some family members who have experienced combat during their time in service will not want to wish the same on their children; they would rather have a ‘civilian’ child to support them as they grow older. This discontent can foster into resentment and eventually hate for the government and the military of the country. This will go against the very nature of the Army – to protect and serve the country and its citizens.

One of the main reasons for Sweden and Germany to remove conscription from its laws, after over a 100 years and 60 years respectively, is due to economic constraints. During peacetime, the ruling government of the country realized that the money and resources put into conscription could be used more effectively elsewhere. Austria has a conscription program as well, however, it also offers civilian alternative for individuals who have conscientious objection. This ensures that the benefits of engaging with citizens are not lost due to the choices of these citizens.

When I engage in conversation with my friends who are currently serving in the military, or who have served their mandatory military service (Singapore), I notice how they are poised and confident of themselves. They have an innate sense of pride and accomplishment, and an attitude that changes mountains into molehills, as the saying (almost) goes. My senior, whose husband has served for many years in the Army, has a seemingly unending well of tolerance, and the ability to look for alternative solutions for any problems. Both groups of people credit the military service for these desirable characteristics. However, they are always aware of the danger that is inherent in this life, and the testing times wherein they are separated from their loved ones; sometimes with restricted means of communicating their well being to each other.

In conclusion, mandatory military service is a boon and a bane for any country – its ruling government and the general population. Military service has proven to have benefits at a personal level, professional level, and on society as a whole. However, in this age of technology and virtually unlimited choices, the youth of today may not be interested in serving their country through the military. In some cases, they may oppose the choice of the means of serving their country being taken away from them. Personally, I believe that military training over a limited period of time (6 to 8 months) would be beneficial to citizens – it provides the advantages of strength, instinctive thinking, decisive action, patriotism, building a sense of community and togetherness; while allowing the individual to have the freedom to pursue their career and choose how to serve their country on their own terms.

48.

The dual role of being a practicing teacher of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), while simultaneously being a trainee-teacher of International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, has forced me to disengage from a comfortable, almost predictable, routine that had steadily and surely crept into my professional life. Beginning from the first class of Introduction to Education paper, to a recently concluded, extensive three-day workshop, I am able to appreciate the obvious and subtle differences between the two curricula – the philosophy of teaching and learning, how the subject matter is taught to the students and what are the expected outcomes at the end of the course as it progresses through the ages of 14 to 18.

At the outset, I would like to note that a fundamental difference between CBSE and IB programme is the ultimate goal – the former aims to educate the massive and diverse population of India through which it aims to encourage humanism[1], whereas the IB programme aims to foster cooperation and understanding of global cultures through education.[2] While reading the texts for the first time, I thought that the aims are the same – after all, India’s diversity in culture is comparable to a global community. However, upon reviewing the material provided once again, and by paying closer attention to the language used in these seminal documents, I realized that there is a difference in the aims of the curricula, which has determinedly influenced the manner in which education is provided in the classroom.

Firstly, in CBSE a student at the age of 14 enters Class 9, which marks the start of ‘high school’. The title itself gives the student a sense of ‘growing up’ – a child is now expected to be more like an adult, be responsible and accountable for his/her own progress, with reduced help from the teacher[3]. This, I have found through my experience with students of Class 9, can be overwhelming for some – until a few months ago they were considered to be children who needed extensive guidance. This expectation is now taken to the ‘next level’ so to speak, when the student enters Class 11 at age 161, with a rudimentary understanding and ability of scholastic independence, but tasked with a heavier responsibility of academic rigor. In each of the above cases, the evaluation models and formative assessment patterns do not have a clear, continuous progression into each phase of the student’s scholastic life – which I have observed, affects the some students’ confidence in their abilities as they got older.

On the other hand, the description of a 14-year old in the IB is that of a Middle Year Programme (MYP) student and he/she has been part of the same programme for at least two years[4]. The development of the student in terms of critical thinking is a stable, steady progress with the aim of promoting independence in thought4, through assessments such as ‘Interdisciplinary Project’ and ‘Personal Project’ at the end of the MYP[5]. While reading this description of students in the final years of the MYP I am struck by how, through the structure of the programme itself, the students are trained to develop confidence in themselves to take on more arduous tasks in a progression through the years. I was especially impressed with the confidence and articulation of the students’ responses to interview questions in the introductory video posted on the official website[6]. To my delight, this confidence, articulation and lateral thinking ability (as it appeared to me) is augmented in the IB Diploma Programme (DP), as demonstrated by the  DP students[7], which I find lacking in most of my students as they progress to Classes 11 and 12 in CBSE.

In my professional opinion, the assessment pattern is an important determiner in how the subject matter is conveyed to the student in the classroom. In CBSE, the primary form of assessment is a pen-and-paper test. The tests are expected to follow Bloom’s Taxonomy religiously. It caters to students from different socio-economic backgrounds and provides teachers with an instant profile of student’s academic progress. In addition to this, teachers assign projects, including projects that integrate art with each subject, which encourage lateral thinking[8]. As an educator, I find this method of assessment repetitive, and I find myself instructing students in a way that will help them solve the problem, rather than teaching them methods of application of concept to solve the problem, in an effort to have them score higher marks. In fact, I find that this scheme is reinforced with how the curriculum document is worded – towards the end of the document8 I find that teachers are aided with synonyms to use in lesson plans! This, I realized, is a great example of what is the expected outcome – all possible permutations and combinations of a situation is spoon-fed to stakeholders, thus doing the thinking for them, and reinforcing the idea that there are only a limited number of ways in which a problem can be solved, thus slowing down or stunting independent and critical thinking. With the advent of the National Education Policy, 2020[9] and its revolutionary changes, I hope that this will not be the future of Indian National Education.

Contrary to this method of assessment, the IBMYP and IBDP look beyond the limited insights provided to an IB teacher from a traditional pen-and-paper test and assess the students that enforce students to think through different solutions for a proposed problem themselves. In the final year of the MYP[10] and DP[11], students are mandated to think of a problem that they would like to tackle themselves! The different perspectives encouraged through these mandated assignments, as well as the generalized, open-ended teacher-aids provided, to me, are exemplar of the end result of an IB education – global, critical thinkers who can confidently work in any environment that they need.

All in all, when contrasting the CBSE curriculum continuum with that of the IB programme, there are stark differences – from the aim of the curriculum to the end result of its implementation. These differences can be attributed to the difference in the students that it caters to as well – the IB programme has been associated with students from higher socio-economic standards in India. Nonetheless, I hope that the positive aspects of both curricula are implemented to most, if not all students in this country for, what I truly believe, to be a better future.

REFERENCE

[1] Central Board of Secondary Education. (n.d.). Senior School Curriculum Class XI-XII 2020-21. http://cbseacademic.nic.in/web_material/CurriculumMain21/SrSecondary/Intitial_pages_srsec_2020-21.pdf

[2] International Baccalaureate Organization. 2005-2020. https://ibo.org/about-the-ib/mission/

[3] Central Board of Secondary Education. (n.d.). Senior School Curriculum Class IX-X 2020-21. http://cbseacademic.nic.in/web_material/CurriculumMain21/Main-Secondary/Intitial_pages_sec_2020-21.pdf

[4] International Baccalaureate Organization. 2005-2020. What is the MYP? https://www.ibo.org/programmes/middle-years-programme/what-is-the-myp/

[5] International Baccalaureate Organization. 2005-2020.  Science. https://www.ibo.org/programmes/middle-years-programme/curriculum/science/

[6] International Baccalaureate. 2016, May 13. MYP Practice in India. https://vimeo.com/166519743

[7]  International Baccalaureate. 2015, December 28. DP learners: are global citizens. https://vimeo.com/150160162

[8] Central Board of Secondary Education. (n.d.). Senior School Curriculum Class IX-X 2020-21. http://cbseacademic.nic.in/web_material/CurriculumMain21/revisedsyllabi/Main-Secondary/REVISEDScience_Sec_2020-21.pdf

[9] The Hindu Net Desk. 2020, July 29. New Education Policy| Medium of instruction to be mother tongue of regional language till Class V. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/new-education-policy-cabinet-briefing-live-updates/article32219499.ece

[10] International Baccalaureate Organization. 2005-2020.Assessment from 2016. https://www.ibo.org/programmes/middle-years-programme/assessment-and-exams/assessment-from-2016/

[11] International Baccalaureate Organization. 2005-2020.Assessment and Exams. https://www.ibo.org/programmes/diploma-programme/assessment-and-exams/

47.

As a high school Physics teacher, objectively scored questions are a boon when evaluating a learner’s performance, in a system that values the student based on the marks scored in an examination. I must admit that in my own evaluation process, the system I follow is not as insightful as those prescribed in this course, however, there are some practices that I do follow, and some that I would like to improve upon, under the guidance of the assessment system prescribed by the Central Board of Secondary Education’s (CBSE) curriculum, and my school.

The questions designed for, and implemented in examinations conducted as part of the summative assessment are perhaps the most scrutinized amongst all other forms of assessment. In addition, there is a heavy reliance on questions asked in past public examination papers, or those set by authors of textbooks. The usual practice for most exams is to copy questions from these dated sources as it has been vetted by experts on education, and it also provides a clear rubric on how we, as teachers, can evaluate the student’s understanding of a particular topic.

In my assessment practice, it is easier for me to provide feedback to students through descriptive-type and numerical-type questions. It is also easy for me to explain to the student, and in some cases even the learner’s parent(s), of the mistakes made, and what needs to be done so that the learner does not repeat these once again. In my experience, I have found that the student will, over a period of time be able to reflect on their own performance (for example, working towards understanding a concept, or to work on their time-management skills to complete a test within the given time limit). These goals are similar to what can be achieved through SQ3R, as Dr. Brown described in his second interview[1]. This is because in these types of questions, it is unproblematic to see if the learner lacks understanding in the concept taught, or if there are concerns regarding the child’s ability to calculate mathematical solutions to problems.

However, this straightforward gathering of information is reduced when it comes to assessing the student’s performance in a multiple choice question, or even a binary-choice question. I find that in most cases, the evaluation is of surface understanding (remembering and understanding as per Bloom’s Taxonomy) of the topic or concept taught. It is rare to see a multiple-choice question be analytical without having to reference information that may be beyond what is taught in the classroom. Hence, these types of questions help me to understand if a particular topic is understood, but I am unable to evaluate if the student is able to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the same topic or concept. In the near future, I would like to change this by creating multiple-choice questions that will be more analytical and evaluative in nature[2], and thus make a more informed and meaningful decision.

In conclusion, objectively scored assessment helps me provide precise feedback to students, and also equips them with the tools to be reflective of their own performance in their summative assessments. Primarily, this kind of scoring allows me to understand and reflect on my own teaching methodology for certain topics. My area of improvement will be in the creation and implementation of binary- and multiple-choice type questions, so that I can provide a better answer to myself, my students and the administration of my school to the question “who needs to be taught what next”.


[1] https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-assessment/lecture/H4LS5/interview-two

[2] Kamtet, W., Dechsri, P. & Tuentrakulchai, T. (2011). Proceedings of IAEA ’11: Development of Science Test Items . Manila, Philippines: IAEA.

46.

The dedicated research and studies into different types of assessment, its impact on schools, governing bodies, and communities has quantified something that we all know instinctively – that assessment is not only an invaluable tool in an academic setting, but it does have lasting effect on society and its growth.

I am immersed in an environment where (in numerous cases) school administrators, parents and learners place the value of the student on his or her grades in assessment. Hence, I believe that this places an essential responsibility on me to provide assessments that can accurately evaluate a child’s academic capabilities, without ignoring his or her soft skills.

The first step, for me, is to be thoroughly prepared with the curriculum of the subject, and more importantly, to read and understand the purpose of the curriculum. The Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) in India provides two detailed sets of learning objectives – for the learner as a whole, and subject-specific goals as well[1]. As a new teacher, this acts a great guide for me to communicate the coursework in a classroom setting, as my goals for the year are clear.

The second step is to successfully evaluate myself and my students on the coursework through assessments[2]. Most assessments are pre-determined by the curriculum (Mid-year and end of year examinations) and the school administration issues guidelines to ensure that all teachers adhere to it (a static blueprint of the question paper, for example)[3]. This has its benefits and disadvantages:

The guidelines make my work easier for me, as I do not have to think up of new methods of assessment, and with these tried-and-tested assessment patterns issued to me, I can make safe, informed decisions of my students’ academic performance – both individually and as a class.
However, there are certain, more creative (or rarer), forms of testing that I believe will engage the students positively with the subject content and with themselves, that I cannot implement without certain resistance. Usually, this resistance comes from students as they want to assignments that they are familiar with, so that they can do it without much effort or thought. In rare cases, my seniors are reluctant in giving me their approval to conduct these kinds of assignments due to time constraints, focus on examinations or feasibility in terms of resources.

In my ideal classroom, my assessments will not be a source of stress for students, as the emphasis would not be on the grades earned, but the learning experience. I would like them to evaluate themselves by conducting an error analysis and to be reflective of their own behavior and attitudes while attempting or performing these assessments. In reality, however, the students do not take well to any form of assignment – they do not see it as a source of improvement or reflection on their work, but rather a source of stress. The system is such that too much value is placed on the final marks scored, hence the child, in almost all cases, learns methods to crack the exam[4], rather than focusing on the concept that needs to be studied. I do try to introduce reflective practices, but it is not taken seriously unless it is introduced as part of the rubrics for evaluation.

All in all, I believe that dedicated, well thought out assessments are essential not just as a pre-requisite for the title of a “good school” but to be a source of reflection for all stakeholders involved in education – from the student to the community. Personally, my understanding of assessment and its impact through this course has been two-pronged – many of my personal beliefs were ratified; some, I have been forced to re-evaluate.


[1] Central Board of Secondary Education. (n.d.). Senior School Curriculum Class IX-X 2020-21. http://cbseacademic.nic.in/web_material/CurriculumMain21/Main-Secondary/Intitial_pages_sec_2020-21.pdf

[2] Brown, G. T. (2012). Teachers’ thinking about assessment: Juggling improvement and accountability. Teacher: the International Education Magazine, 6(2), 30-35

[3] Central Board of Secondary Education. (n.d.). Senior School Curriculum Class IX-X 2020-21. http://cbseacademic.nic.in/web_material/CurriculumMain21/revisedsyllabi/Main-Secondary/REVISEDScience_Sec_2020-21.pdf

[4] Kapur, K. (2008). Proceedings from IAEA ’08: Assessment for Improving Learning in Schools in India: A perspective. Cambridge, UK: IAEA.