Education has been a symbol of status as well as a measurement of excellence in Kerala for years. More often than not, children have twin responsibilities with regard to schooling - they must study for a bright future, and at the same time realise the unfulfilled career/educational desires of the parents. Parents often form pressure groups to exhort their children to meet these expectations. These parental aspirations have also influenced the working of the schools, which sustain and often add to the pressures exerted by the parents.

Not surprisingly, many students cannot cope with this situation. Helplines in the state have revealed a high number of stress calls by both children and parents around the time Class X results are out each year. Now the state government has decided to remove unhealthy competition from the Class X assessments by introducing a grading system for evaluation from 2004-5, instead of the ranking system used for decades. In the new grading system, an Absolute Grading Pattern (AGP) has been developed with a value point between 1 and 9 for each grade. For example, when an A+ is awarded for those scoring above 90 percent in a subject, the corresponding value point would be 9.

AGP grades and value points
90 % and above
below 20%
Very Good
Above Average
Needs to improve
Should improve

Until this year, there were only written examinations in twelve subjects, with a total of 600 marks. But from next year, students will face a 3-tier valuation system, covering their curricular work, co-curricular performance, and excellence in a chosen field. The curricular portion will have written examinations in all the existing subjects, as well as information technology. In this segment 650 marks can be obtained through the written examinations known as 'summative evaluation'.

A second part of the curricular segment, known as 'continuous evaluation', will count for an additional 250 marks which can be obtained through internal assessment, seminars, assignments and projects in these 13 subjects (20 marks each for the existing subjects, and 10 mark for IT). Internal assessments will be based on class tests held in each subject in July and November, the average of which will be taken as class test score. In each subject, there will be a portfolio which will contain one project, one assignment, one seminar, two practical examinations, two records, and the two class tests.

Evaluations of co-curricular work will include craftwork, art, physical education and health education. In the third segment, aimed at personality development, leadership quality, communication skills, punctuality, club activities at school, etc will be assessed. Admissions to Plus-2 will be based on the grade obtained in Class X. Those having Grades D and E are not eligible for admission to Plus-2, as they need to improve their scores. However, they can improve without losing an academic year through the Save the Year scheme.

The teachers of aided and government schools are being given training to assimilate them into the new system. ``The new system establishes a better relationship between the teacher and the student,’’ says Celine John, an English teacher at the Government School, Thamarassery, Kozhikode. ``We will be preparing a profile of each student, which will record all-round performance. Also, evaluation can be more meaningful as a result of this approach, she believes.’

The new system has critics too. Anoop, a Class X student who will face the grading system next year, feels the transition process should have been slower. "I do not know how we can cope with the change so soon. Probably this should have been introduced in Class VIII and upgraded to Class IX and Class X. Now in the last minute I do not know if I can handle the pressure of so much work", he says.

Christina DeCunha, headmistress of CCPLM Anglo-Indian School, Kochi points out that this method is not fool-proof. "How do you ensure that the 20 marks for internal assessment is given in a fair manner?" she asks. "A centralised marking system removes such tendencies. An element of partiality always remains in internal assessments. It is possible that a good student is penalised by a vindictive teacher or that an undeserving pupil is helped by an indulging teacher", she says. "Our parents are tense, and we are holding a meeting with them soon to apprise them of the new system", she adds. But she admits that the new system can replace the spoon-feeding era where the children hardly knew anything other than the notes given by the teacher. "In this system the children learn to observe a lot and that's bound to be helpful in the long run", she feels.

An element of partiality always remains in internal assessments. But the new system can replace the spoon-feeding era where the children hardly knew anything other than the notes given by the teacher.

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