The NCERT will conduct a National Achievement Survey (NAS) to gauge the learning achievements of Class 3, Class 5 and Class 8 students across the country. The survey was last conducted in 2017 when 2.2 million students from all the states and union territories of India were assessed.
In a statement in Lok Sabha, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said, “NAS (2017) was administered in different subject areas such as Languages, Mathematics, EVS/Science and Social Sciences in the government and government aided schools. Similarly, NAS for class 10 was also conducted throughout the country on February 05, 2018.” Pradhan added that the assessment will take place again in November this year.
Students are asked only multiple-choice questions as these results have to be produced quickly. The data derived from these tests is given to educational planners so that they can implement it and improve the existing system.
Initially, it was called Baseline Achievement Survey (BAS) and it started in 2001. A survey like this was necessary despite the presence of half-yearly exams. In an interview on NCERT’s YouTube channel, Dr. Gulfam (Assistant Professor at Educational Survey Division, NCERT) said, “The exams that we conduct are done to promote the students from one grade to the other. In NAS, we are not covering the entire syllabus but are instead focusing on learning outcomes. We have designed it in a way so that it helps policy makers. For example, along with a pupil questionnaire, there’s also a school questionnaire and a teacher questionnaire.”
The big challenge is to use the data collected from this survey to improve the efficiency of schools. In India, there’s a culture of exams which isn’t the same thing as a culture of learning. A lot of students believe in mugging up concepts which they forget soon after exiting their examination hall.
Exams also create a lot of pressure and there have been several cases of suicide reported. A 12th standard student doesn’t just have to study (and go to coaching classes) for his board exams, he/she also has to prepare for several competitive exams which are ‘make or break’ in nature.
In his book Numbers: The Tyranny of Testing, Warwick Mansell said, “This grades race is ultimately self-defeating. It does not guarantee better educated pupils, just better statistics for schools and the government.”
This is true because the exam system doesn’t allow you to judge skills like creativity and resilience – qualities that are needed in every professional field. A lot of students who ace their exams with flying colours struggle professionally because they can’t handle the pressure. On the contrary, people with low grades may excel in their work life and achieve great things.
Currently, creativity is not just ignored by teachers, it is shunned. A lot of evaluators rely on model answer papers and if a student uses a slightly different (but correct) word, they are still deducted marks. We are checking a student’s ability to memorize, not learn.
Teachers are also highly underpaid in the country which pushes a lot of talented aspirants away from the profession.
That said, India faces a bigger problem than a flawed education system – it’s illiteracy. A lot of children can’t afford to go to school and are made to work for a pittance. They can’t read or write and are often exploited and cheated. According to a 2017-18 report by UNESCO, 35% of the world’s illiterate people reside in India. That’s an embarrassing statistic for a country that aims at becoming a global superpower.
Coming back to NAS, we believe that such tests are necessary for us to gauge and improve the efficacy of our schools. That said, an assessment alone won’t serve as a magic wand that alleviates all the problems. Teachers need to be rewarded better, students need to pay more attention and administrators need to encourage policies that tackle illiteracy. India has three times as many schools as China, but a lot of them are in shambles. Unless we improve their quality, we can’t envision a country where growth is a way of life and extreme poverty is a thing of the past.
*Some quotes have been edited for brevity.