Leave exams to experts

img1 A. J. Philip
12 Apr 2021

In India, examination time is, unfortunately, suicide time. There are many children who end their lives because they cannot cope with the pressures of examination. Reasons abound for this sorry state of affairs.

A few weeks ago, a very bright student whom I personally knew used his mother’s sari to hang himself from the ceiling fan. I was shocked by the horrendous incident that plunged a whole school into the depths of sorrow.

I immediately got in touch with a friend and counsellor to give a counselling session to all the students appearing for the 10th and 12th CBSE board examination from the school with which I am associated.

I wanted the students to learn that examinations, however important they may be, do not matter much in life. Success cannot be measured in terms of the marks one scores in an examination.

If that was the case, one Mr Shivshankar who topped in the 10th and 12th examinations in Kerala and eventually got into the IAS and became Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister should have been the most successful person.

He is today the most disgraced civil servant in Kerala, he having spent more than 100 days in jail. There was another person who used to top in examinations.

He was the late C Achutha Menon, who became the Chief Minister of Kerala. After his retirement from politics, he built a small house near Thrisoor and lived a peaceful, contented and unostentatious life.

Menon lived such a life that nobody could ever raise his finger against him. He will remain as one of the greatest, if not the greatest chief minister Kerala has produced.

Menon would have been the right person to advise the students on how to face examinations at the school or the university level. He did not think it necessary to do so.

There is, however, one person who has come forward claiming to be an exam warrior with tips on all his fingertips for the students appearing for various board examinations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is that amazing person.

I learnt that Modi was an expert on examinations when in July 2019, I was invited to take part in a discussion on Doordarshan. A Rajya Sabha member from Maharashtra was a co-panelist. He was carrying a book on examinations, allegedly authored by Modi.

He used the occasion to praise the Prime Minister and showcase his unflinching loyalty to him. He even displayed the book to the audience.

I understand that Modi has made his Parikasha Pe Charcha (Discussion on Examinations) an annual feature. Invited students would be brought to a hall like the Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi where the PM would answer their questions.

The programme is handled by the same group of people who are behind Modi’s Mann Ki Baath in which he talks about sundry issues. Over the years, it has emerged as one of the most boring programmes.

There is a reason for Mann Ki Baath. As Prime Minister, Nehru spent a considerable amount of time to write letters to the Chief Ministers. Those letters were not just how-are-you-I-am-fine type of letters that most people write.

Nehru used the letters to express his views on various political, economic and social issues in a clear, concise and forthright manner. Ambiguity was never his forte and he faced challenges as quickly as they arose.

Of course, Nehru did not rely on a battery of officials who would gather talking points using their Twitter handle for the benefit of the Prime Minister. Modi just reads out what his secretaries prepare. Mann Ki Baath is a collaborative effort, the usefulness of which is debatable.

In Nehru’s case, he was a storehouse of knowledge gathered over the years reading books and listening to people. President Kennedy is reported to have told a gathering of Nobel Prize winners at the White House that the White House had never seen such a galaxy of

the knowledgeable except when President Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

Nehru was like Jefferson. He wrote letters to his daughter Indira from the jails where he spent nearly a decade and those letters became the Glimpses of World History, easily one of the most readable books.

His Discovery of India remains a classic and is one of the best sellers in India. Since the written word is far more difficult than the spoken word, demagogues like Modi prefer to speak, rather than to write.

That is precisely why Hitler preferred to speak, rather than write. He was a great demagogue who could stir up emotions and turn ordinary Germans into the haters of Jews, projected as the primary cause of Germany’s troubles.

Hitler found in the new medium of film a great opportunity to convert the masses into his blind followers. Films espousing the greatness of the Aryans and deriding the Jews were produced and shown in his campaign, the ultimate aim of which was the Final Solution. It meant the extermination of the Jews in the concentration camps at Dachau, near Munich, and thousands of other places.

Like Hitler, Modi also prefers to address the masses, rather than to have a dialogue with them. It is significant that he has not so far addressed a single Press Conference after assuming office as PM.

Even when he visits foreign countries, he does not allow journalists from the mainstream media to accompany him. He does not interact with media persons who are always kept at a distance.

Meanwhile, Modi’s latest Pariksha Pe Charcha has landed him in trouble. He gave a solemn advice to the students appearing for the board examinations this year. He said that they should attempt the most difficult questions first.

He had a logic, though weird. The mind of the student would be fresh when he attempted the first question. So he could summon up all his energy to answer the most difficult question.

Anyone who has ever appeared for an examination knows that Modi’s advice is stupid, to say the least. The students should answer first those questions which are easy to score. They should leave the difficult questions to the last. 

This is how students have been writing examinations ever since the institution of examination came into being. When Modi’s advice was mocked in the social media and people began to make fun of him, he deleted it from his Twitter account.

Yet, his advice as telecast remains in the public domain. The embarrassment Modi suffered on account of his laughable advice could have been avoided, had he been true to himself. What is his competence to lead a discussion on examinations?

In December last, I underwent an angioplasty that left two stents in my artery and one in my vein. I know something about heart attacks and their symptoms. Does that make me competent to give a lecture on cardiology and the critical role it plays in modern medicine?

Modi is a street-smart politician. He is by any standard a successful leader. He found an opportunity in the Godhra massacre to project himself as the Hindu Hriday Samrat. That is how he is today the Prime Minister. 

Does that entitle him to give advice on how to appear for examinations? In Kerala, there was a successful Muslim businessman. His name was Thangal Kunju Musaliar. With the money he earned in business, he set up an engineering college at Kollam. 

It is named TKM College of Engineering. It had the best infrastructure in the state. Musliar was not very educated. He did not teach the students engineering. Instead, he employed competent teachers to take classes.

Students from TKM command a premium in the job market. Imagine Musaliar giving advice to the students on how to appear for examinations. Modi and Musaliar are successful in their own fields but they are not jack of all trades.

Modi used to make fun of his predecessor Manmohan Singh. Once he compared him to a person taking a shower with his rain coat on. Modi may not be able to appreciate the fact that he was the most qualified person to hold the post of PM anywhere in the world.
He obtained first rank in many examinations and held high academic, economic and political posts before becoming finance minister and finally Prime Minister. There was only one other leader who had comparable qualifications. He was Vaclav Havel who was the last president of Czechoslovakia.

Manmohan Singh did not think it necessary to organise a meeting of students and discuss with them on how to score good marks in examinations. In comparison, what is Modi’s qualification?

Although there is the Right To Information Act, nobody knows for sure what exactly is his qualification. Is he a graduate? It was claimed that he is an alumnus of Delhi University. Nobody has so far come forward to claim that he or she was Modi’s classmate in Delhi University.

Similarly, no teacher claims to have taught him at DU. When a copy of his degree certificate appeared, many found many discrepancies in it. For instance, the certificate was prepared using a computer. At that time Delhi University had not begun using computers for preparing certificates. 

In short, there were many shortcomings in his certificate. Now, the details of his qualifications are kept as a top secret. How can all these details inspire a student? They will question his competence to lecture on the examination system.

As I write this, the Delhi Government has asked all the schools to close their classes. This is in view of the surge in Covid cases. Holding even practicals will be impossible. Instead of the Prime Minister wasting his time on advising students how to write answers, he should think about the digital divide in the country.

The spread of Corona and the resultant lockdown have caused enormous damage to the student community. It is true that private schools in cities were able to organise online classes. Students with access to computers and tablets and high-speed data services could make use of such classes.

Students in government schools and those whose parents cannot afford to procure tablets and computers for their wards were left out of the classes. Tens of thousands of schools in the villages and small towns could not hold online classes. Even if such classes were held for namesake, a large majority of the students could not derive benefit from it.

For all practical purposes, the students have lost one year of study. If the trend in Corona spread in Delhi is anything to go by, students might lose another year. This will have dangerous implications for the poor students.

The rich will be able to educate their children using all the means at their command. What about the poor? Take the case of the poor Dalit child studying in a government school in a remote village in UP or MP. How will he study? They are already behind their rich brethren by one year.

Modi does not seem to be aware of the situation in the country. The lockdown caused insecurity to girl children. Reports have shown that girl children suffered at the hands of sexual predators, especially among their relatives. For them the school was a safer place. As Prime Minister, Modi should think about how to bridge the digital divide. He should find ways to ensure that children return to their classes at the earliest. 

They cannot be kept at home, except at a terrible cost to the nation. Instead, he is giving them silly advices on how to answer questions in an examination about which he has no clue whatsoever.

Modi should also learn how to keep his mouth shut on issues which are alien to him so that he can devote his full attention to solving the problems of the common man. Let him think about how families can manage their household expenditure when the per-litre petrol price touches the three-digit figure. And let him hold a Charcha on it.

ajphilip@gmail.com

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