The HRD Ministry must pull out all the stops to restore trust in the CBSE exam process
The Central Board of Secondary Education faces a serious erosion of credibility with the leak of its annual examination question papers on Economics for Class 12 and Mathematics for Class 10. Thousands of students are naturally frustrated that their best shot at these papers has come to nought; they must now make another strenuous effort in a re-examination. Clearly, the Ministry of Human Resource Development failed to assign top priority to secrecy and integrity of the process, considering that its standard operating procedure was easily breached, and the questions were circulated on instant messaging platforms. Yet, the problem is not new. State board question papers have been leaked in the past. When the HRD Ministry was asked in the Lok Sabha three years ago what it intended to do to secure the CBSE Class 12 and 10 examinations, Smriti Irani, who was the Minister then, asserted the inviolability of the process, since the question papers were sealed and stored in secret places and released to authorised officials with a window of only a few hours. In addition, the board has dedicated secrecy officers for each region. But the protocol has failed, and HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar should conduct a thorough inquiry to get at the truth and initiate remedial steps without delay. One of the options is to institute a National Testing Agency, although it was originally supposed to take charge of entrance examinations in the first phase. State school boards also need help to reform systems.
A major leak such as the one that has hit the CBSE raises a question often debated in academic circles: is a high-stakes test the best option? To some sociologists, the use of a quantitative indicator with rising importance for social decision-making makes it more vulnerable to corruption pressures, and distorts and undermines the very processes it is intended to monitor. That seems to be an apt description of what has taken place. Today, what is needed is a credible testing method to assess a student’s aptitude and learning. But the answer may lie not in one all-important examination, but in multiple assessments that achieve the same goal. Such an approach will end the scramble for high scores in a definitive board examination, and the exam stress that the government has been trying to alleviate. It will also limit the fallout of a leak. These and other options need to be debated by academic experts. More immediately, the CBSE has to restore faith in its processes. The board went into denial mode when the leaks were first reported, but subsequently decided to acknowledge the problem and ordered a fresh examination in the two subjects. In the current scheme, the annual exercise is all-important to students. Everything should be done to inspire total confidence in the board examinations.