A satisfactory association

A research paper titled Assessment for improving learning in schools in India: A Perspective submitted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to the International Association for Educational Assessment in 2008, admits that current student performance assessment and evaluation systems in K-12 education in India are entirely exams-based. “Assessment focuses only on cognitive learning outcomes and in the process, co-curricular domains are neglected, even though co-curricular areas are an equally important and significant part of child development. Even in curricular areas, the focus is on rote learning and memorisation, characterised by a neglect of higher mental abilities such as critical thinking, problem-solving and creative ability,” says the NCERT paper.

Currently, there’s a raging debate among progressive parents on whether the Central and state boards, whose syllabi, curricula and pedagogies are synchronised with public entrance examinations, provide better chances for admission into India’s 35,000 undergraduate colleges and 835 universities. On the other hand, several offshore examination boards such as Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) and Edexcel offer syllabi and curricula that test and develop the broader cognitive and problem-solving skills of students which aren’t adequately appreciated by public entrance exams and university boards in India. Nevertheless the number of schools affiliated with CIE and IBO in India has grown rapidly in recent years. In particular CIE-affiliated schools in India has grown to 350 and the number of IBO schools to 120.

Currently five of the 20-strong Mumbai-based Vibgyor Group of K-12 institutions are affiliated with the UK-based CIE and our experience of the CIE syllabus/curriculum has been good. Internally generated evidence indicates that the CIE pedagogy develops the cognitive, physical, social, emotional intelligences of children in a balanced, integrated way. Students are encouraged to experience hands-on learning in a spirit of exploration. The promised objective of the curriculum, to make children confident, responsible, reflective and innovative, has been substantially delivered.

For example, ‘A’ level (class XII) students at Vibgyor High, Mumbai recently undertook a project on sales and marketing of food items as part of their business studies curriculum. This exercise enabled students to acquire valuable practical experience of planning and implementing business ideas while trouble-shooting and problem-solving in a systematic and logical manner. Simultaneously they interacted with co-workers and customers, managed time and set priorities in the real world context.

Another significant advantage offered by the CIE curriculum is a wider choice of subjects. While Indian exam boards offer just one-two subjects within each stream — humanities, science and commerce — CIE’s ‘A’ level school-leaving exam offers a broad choice of 55 subjects with schools given the option of offering them in any combination. This flexibility means schools can build individualised curriculums, and learners can choose a cluster of subjects across disciplines to study. This freedom helps students to focus on subjects which interest them even as they explore several career paths.

In the area of evaluating learning outcomes too, CIE affiliation offers several advantages. Evaluation is not restricted to written papers. Learning outcomes are measured through a variety of tests which include online testing. This broadens opportunities for students to showcase their learning through different platforms while acquiring new knowledge and skill-sets. Moreover, an eight-point grading scale enables accurate assessment of students’ learning outcomes across a wide range of subjects.

Lastly, another great advantage of CIE affiliation is the high quality teacher training this transnational exam board makes available to schools. CIE master trainers are always on call to mentor and enable teachers of affiliated schools through online workshops and hybrid training programmes. Teachers can choose to enhance their skills in specific or a cluster of subjects. Moreover, with affiliated schools in over 160 countries, the CIE teachers’ fraternity enables educators to develop national and international support networks through which experiences and ideas can be shared, discussed and exchanged.

To summarise, our experience of CIE affiliation has been very positive, facilitating growth in a wide range of capabilities, knowledge, and skills. This association has also enabled development of individualised school curriculums, sharpened students’ cognitive capabilities and problem-solving skills, and has enabled our teachers to continuously learn as they teach.