14 January 2009

We Don’t Need No Examinations

Exams don’t make any sense. No, no, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean it in that sense, that we shouldn’t have exams at all. We do need exams: virtue, as old Milton so rightly declared, can only be known when tested. Exams help you realise your capacity, and your capability: as far as self-realisation/assessment goes, nothing beats a test, or exam.

What I’m against is the current system of examination in our Delhi University, a system which, for all we know and do, ultimately, because of its inherent flaws, defeats the very purpose of examinations. Giving exams in DU under the existing system, and that too in Literature in English, doesn’t make sense: exams are redundant.

We have all the exams lined up one after the other, especially in the college mid-terms, so that it’s quite difficult to break away yourself from one age to land in the other. One day you’re going along that motley gang of pilgrims to Canterbury and, suddenly, on the very next you’re supposed to come right down to the Restoration and see the Prince of Dullness crowned. Then, immediately after, you have to go back in antiquity and then oscillate between Achilles and Dushyanta, both of them two humongous continents and ages apart. Somewhere in between, you also have to divine why the heck would Kevin be just as happy with 20 units of food as he’d be with 40 of them and why on earth Tenali Raman cracked so many jokes. If this is not confusion incarnate, if this does not lead to dislocation, then what will?

Then, sometimes, you just don’t feel like giving exams- the weather might be too nice, you might be in mood for a getaway-break, or somebody might be getting married, or you might be sick, or somebody might’ve died, or anything...but no, you don’t have an option. You have to give them when the big bossy authorities want you to. No free will here (hopefully the radicals amongst us will be reading this…) – you either tow the line, or give your papers next year.

Why can’t we give exams as and when we want to? Why can’t DU, like a few Open Universities in India and some universities aboard have exams more often, every quarter so that the student can choose and give exams at his/her convenience? Surely such a thing can be implemented in a phased manner? There will be logistic and administrative challenges in this, but the University is, at least in theory, supposed to be for us, the students. As it is, it’s so unfair slogging when you don’t feel like it…

Then, there’s luck. You might get stuck in a terrific traffic jam and be half an hour late, or the ignoramus behind, in front, or besides you might keep pestering you with whyfores all through the paper, or you might start feeling sleepy or, worse still, sick, or your invigilator might be a boisterous, ne’er-to-do-well type who’ll go around passing loud comments, or, you know, anything…you came prepared, but wretched luck got you. And you can’t help it too, and have to abide by the results, because there’s just one chance! How unfair to be judged through a system so open to the vagaries of Fortune!

Coming back to Literature in English, what’s the point of having RTCS-reference to context for the uninitiated-in our papers? What are the long-lasting merits of knowing who said what where, when and why? This art is more suited to ingenious trainers of parrots and other dumb beasts, not to us literature students. As you read new texts you forget the old ones, or consign them to not-so-conscious, non-everyday-usage parts of your brain. Most of us cannot remember each and every story we’ve read- I certainly don’t remember the plot of any of the scores of Enid Blytons I read some five to seven years ago. All I have is a faint inkling of a few of the great amount I devoured and I guess so will be the case with the prescribed texts in our syllabus: as and when I read new things, which I, and many of us, do unfailingly, the memory of these old ones will start fading. In fact, the process has already started; I don’t remember what happens in many of the innumerable poems in our first year…

The examination strategy of asking RTCs, therefore, is redundant. Time will make me, and others, forget. Does it even matter whether Faustus said such and such thing in Act 2, Scene 1 or in Act 1, Scene 4? By thundering Jove it really does not!

What matters is how much of the text you’re able to understand, how much of its ideology you’re able to analyse and see critically from an unbiased, rational and historical as well as universal point of view (i.e. whether or not you can understand the text in its and your own milieu).

Sadly, the current system does not even ensure that.

There’re stock questions to which are expected stock answers. There’s a mixture of stock interpretations, “readings” as we’re fond of calling them in our own literary jargon, which you can safely apply to all your questions and get fairly good marks. What’s more, any guide in the cheap markets, on the pavements or in Grub Street bookstores will, or so I’m told, give you a fair enough idea of what stock reading to apply when and where. True, you won’t score excellently, but you can still get something in the late fifties and that fair enough in English hons. Exam-oriented strategies, therefore, can get you good marks. No need of studying through the year, or devoting hours to thinking about the text. Our system is so accommodating that the dullest dunce can, with luck and a RamjiLal, score well.

Oh, did I miss something? I think I did. You can cheat too y’know! Yes, cheat, that too in Literature, wherein it is so very redundant to cheat. So, even if you do work hard and well with a clean conscience, there’ll always be unconscionable rascals who’ll cheat and, since most invigilators are just not up the job, get away quite, quite easily with it.

Finally, even if you tow the line, put in all that hard work and give your exams like the good, diligent student you are, you’re still at the mercy of the whims and fancies of faceless sarkari babus and still more faceless examiners. First, (in the finals that is) you don’t know the quality of the examiners, the procedure by which they’re selected, whether or not they’re even qualified enough to check your answer sheets. A bad, unqualified examiner and whoop! there goes all your hard work! Then, you never know whether the result in the finals is yours or somebody else’s: the Examination Office can very easily, and does with disgraceful regularity, fudge results and fumble over mark-sheets. A friend of mine witnessed something of the sort: the third, and final, term is about to start and his final, re-evaluated, or re-processed (or whatever they call it in the high mysterious language of babudom) results are yet to come out.

Of course, you do need that degree with the first division on it- it looks so nice and proper. And of course you will work, or cheat, hard to get it. But then, that’s what it is- a nice and proper document for most with nothing substantial but fragmented and confused ideas and notions behind it. What will ultimately matter is the knowledge you gain for its own blessed sake and how you let that make yourself an altogether better human being, not, certainly not, the facts and readings you memorise to spit out on answer sheets,

And since the system as it is doesn’t inspire the majority to do that, exams really don’t matter…


Anant Pradhan said...

You don't "tow the line" son, you "toe the line". I haven't read beyond that point but I'll try when I have more free time.

I agree with the broader idea that exams are pretty redundant and what not but it's sort of disappointing to see that you look at it from just a literature student's point of view. Literature, my dear friend, is hardly the most important field out there :P!!

ssp said...

Excellent piece! With your simple ideology too complex for 'babudom', I do humbly agree.

A word regarding looking at it from a Literature student's point of view. I don't know how different this piece would have been had it not been written from a Literature student's perspective, but the fact that you were well versed with your source content made it a much enjoyable read for me as a target audience.

Nirbhay said...

To Anant Pradhan:
I think he's written "tow" instead of "toe" because he wants readers to understand it as a burden, or something else, being towed by each of us exam-givers. That's wit.

Nirbhay said...

The photo above Marx's comment and the photo at the bottom of that page, did you upload them roughly on the same day? The ship; and the hill with greenery, the sky, etc. around it. It is easy to imagine these compositions as rough parallels!

AP said...

My dear fellow, much as I would like to do it, much as I would like to claim this crown of wit with which you attempt to annoint me, I really cannot. I'm afraid my borther is right here- it should've been toe and not tow.

Though I must say your interpretation is quite novel and interesting. Thanks for the same.

Thanks to ssp too.

I'm aware that a number of issues raised here apply to sudents from other streams aslo, but I've deliberately chosen to present a Literature (and not English Hons) student's perpective because I'm most familiar with it.

And we should not, my dear fellow, get into which field is important and which is not. That will lead to many harsh words and bitter heart-breaks...

And Nirbhay, that's not a ship. That's the Jag Mahal in Lake Pichola in Udaipur. Yes, I uploaded both photos (infact all photos on the blog) on the same day- 14th Jan. In fact, coincidentally, all of them were also aken on the same day.