By Lakshana Ramakrishnan
There are multiple ways in which you could interpret this piece that you're about to read: a lazy, demotivated college-goer's angry rant; a confessional piece by a teenager whose misplaced ego has just been deflated or a victim's first-hand account of how a faulty education system tricked her into basing her life so far on a well-crafted lie.
Before I begin with my charge, I believe that it would be prudent to establish context. In May this year, I obtained 98 per cent in my 12th standard exams that I wrote under the Tamil Nadu State Board Syllabus. I have been studying under the state board--Samacheer Kalvi--since the 8th standard and have been obtaining no less than 90 per cent in all of my exams.
But the very first semester in a top-ranking National Law University has taught me, rather rudely, that my skills at reading, writing and analysing subject matters that I cultivated under the Samacheer Kalvi system are all deeply flawed.
After my board exams, I took a competitive exam and earned a seat in a top-ranking Law school, with the help of a coaching centre of course. The first semester, which began in August and ended in December last year, has been a scary revelatory experience for me. In a class, with a mix of students from the CBSE, ICSE, IB or other state boards, I hardly managed to clear all my exams, much less feature in the top half of the class.
Bewildered by my poor performance, I realised that whoever designed the Samacheer Kalvi system had not prepared us for a system where we would be required to express our own views on the subjects. The system stresses on rote learning and memory recall of subject material and ensures that a student not only never engages deeply with their subjects, but is actually averse to it. As a student under this system, it was never demanded of us that we understood what we studied.
Comparatively, the CBSE system is exhaustive in its course content, and the ICSE and IB systems base their examinations on knowledge other than the topics covered in the syllabus.
As a result, I find myself at a loss when I am asked to interpret an essay or compare and contrast the views of two authors, who differed in opinion. I'm quite bewildered as to why the professor would require me to do anything other than rewrite the article that I've read. Attempting to understand course material and then expressing my views on it, are skills that I am expected to learn in law school. I find myself at a disadvantage compared to my peers, who have been taught some of these skills in their schools under different boards. This system has seriously hampered my ability to read a text and absorb its spirit in entirety.
At the beginning of the first semester we were asked to deliver a judgement for a case that we had read. We were to base this judgement on certain theoretical principles we had been taught. My classmates were able to apply the theories to the situation that had been provided. They were able to arrive at a decision that employed a logical and creative reasoning. I failed to articulate any reasoning and failed to go beyond merely reproducing the facts.
I would like to move on to the content that is prescribed by the Samacheer Kalvi Board. The material that I learnt “by-heart” and earnestly reproduced was obsolete, outdated and redundant. In retrospect, it's rather hilarious that I spent many evenings last year memorising the sections of the Companies Act of 1956, while its 2013 replacement has not only been enacted but has also been implemented.
To add to the superficial knowledge we were being imparted under this system, the already pathetic syllabus has been diluted multiple times to “facilitate” the learning process of the students.
Another aspect that cannot be overlooked is the examination system and the collateral damage that it leaves behind. The pattern of questions and the method of marking ensure that even a mere flicker of any light of progress is extinguished.
It is common knowledge amongst students that the compulsory set of 10-15 questions in our paper are repeated every year in different order. The students are encouraged to restrict their study to merely cover those lessons that provide answers to these oft-repeated questions.
The marking is done with the aim to pass everyone that attempt the exam, so that the system can later boasts of students that secure ridiculously high marks. The high level of marks is not a reflection of a high level of competence of the students, but of a high level of leniency that is adopted while grading the papers.
Ten differently constructed sentences that convey the same message, written as ten bullet points earns the student brownie points under the Samacheer Kalvi system. Whereas, descriptive sentences explaining nuanced concepts in well-rounded essays are graded down.
I'm a proud Tamilian and it saddens me that my state that is so progressive in so many ways, is this backward in their education system. The time has come to rethink, restructure and refurbish our education system. The damage caused so far cannot be reversed, but we can look to providing an education that help more students like me, who study under the state board, be at par with students from other boards.
Views expressed are the author's only