Value Education and Marks

7 Apr

It is all about thinking through the reasons and consequences before the action. It’s also about reflecting, choosing and deciding on a fair path

Standing in the school uniform queue I marvelled at the transformation from the year before. It was a heaving mass of humanity packed in a tight space last year. People were shouting at one another, clothes were being flung across other customers, tempers were frayed. One activist (and I refrain from naming the perpendicular pronoun) spoke up, shaming people into forming a queue. It formed, by sheer force of will. Each customer received faster service and the cashier made fewer mistakes. This year, despite the same flawed customer service design, the scene was different. There was order at the edge of chaos. And people holding back for one another. Not quite a community, but certainly not the Malthusian mob fighting for the last scrap of hairband and tie like before. This is where values are embedded and practised. Not in examinations.

Value education is essential, and none other than schools can offer the opportunity to explore, discuss and agree on shared values for a society. Schools must, and often do, build value education into their teaching. But should value education come as a central diktat? And worse: Can value education ever be a part of an examination? Is there such a thing as an absolute value? Something that is so clearly right or wrong that one can dump the response on an answer sheet and expect to get marks for it? Clearly, there will be a right answer expected for marks to be earned  — and that in itself is a travesty. What value system teaches children that there is only one right answer regardless of the people involved, the situation and its layered history, regardless of cultural context and changing society? How can this be a good way to embed values?

Value education is not merely about right and wrong. It is about teaching children to make good choices with empathy and cognition. To use their brains, to be kind, to gather and process information and act in a way that adds value to society. Can that be taught? Certainly. Can it be learnt at school? Possibly. Can it be tested? Surely it can — is every moment not a test of our values? Should it be tested in a national standardised test?

This is what has been done this year — value education questions have been included in science papers. The questions do not ask the students to reflect or explore. On the contrary, they reduce real life despair and conflict to two dimensional cut-outs seeking names for ‘values’. Not responses, not empathy, not an understanding of the situation — only named values. Chemistry examinations seek to test and give marks for identifying the values of a ‘saviour’ friend who rescues a stressed executive and points him towards yoga. Or another saviour who rescues the fainting maid and funds her treatment.

Did anyone think these through? Did anyone take off their own filters and think it through again? First, the easy ones. Note the gender bias — the women are at home, the men at office. Enough said there. Second, everyone here needs rescuing, a saviour intervenes. So self-reliance is not a value then? Swadheen Bharat anyone? The nature of the questions too is rather half-hearted — as if unsure of what is the want to test and reward. “What are the human values revealed from the passage” is a question that follows text on Wajid Ali Shah’s dethroning. What does this question seek to achieve? Does it want the candidate to reflect? To judge? To analyse, synthesise, evaluate? Can there be a right or wrong answer here? Who is to judge which answer is right? A central committee that drafts model answers of course.

If value education is not rewarded with marks via the examination process, students will not even look at the content supplied to them. Nor will most teachers be able to allocate time to something that does not pay back in marks. The fact that the Central Board of Secondary Education felt compelled to include it in the examination is symptomatic of the malaise. It has had to acknowledge that unless students are bribed with marks, they will not think about values. Corruption may have unwittingly been fostered here.

Value education is about thinking through the reasons and consequences before the action. It is about reflecting, choosing and deciding on a fair path that reduces dissonance and adds to the good in the world. It is about moving beyond merely ticking the boxes and leaving others to picking up the pieces of unintended consequences.


This was published in the Daily Pioneer on Thursday, April 04, 2013 and is linked here and






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