(Talk delivered on 19.11.2001 in the Assembly Hall of Rajghat Besant School as a part of the Orientation Programme for Teachers)
The topic that we are going to investigate today relates to the place of testing, evaluation and reporting about the education of the child in a K-school. We have talked about the vision with which a K-School is set up and what it is aiming to do. As I was thinking about it, I felt that there was an analogy between a K-School and a certain dialogue in the Bhagvad Gita. In the Bhagvad Gita, Arjuna asks Krishna, “What is the liberated man like? How does he live? How does he talk? How does he sleep? How does he eat? In what way is he different from the rest of us”? Krishna gives a long reply the gist of which is as follows: outwardly, the liberated man does everything that the normal man does; he sleeps like the normal man, he eats like the normal man, he talks like the normal man; but it is not the same thing because he does not do it for the same reasons. That means, the difference is not in the external manifestation but in the spirit with which he is operating in life. I see a parallel between that and what a K-School is attempting to do. A K-School also does everything that a normal school is trying to do. It has classes, it has teachers and students, it has academics, it wants the child to be disciplined, orderly as does the normal school, but the difference lies not so much in what we are doing, but the spirit in which one is approaching this entire responsibility, this entire work. That spirit makes for the difference.
So, keeping that in mind and in keeping with that spirit about which we have discussed in the last two days, what should be the ingredients of evaluating, testing and reporting about the child in a K-School? That is the question that, I think, we should inquire into. First, can we just talk in terms of the spirit, what we would like it to be. Later we can talk about the structures and what we should do. That will have to be investigated and whatever our capacity, our wisdom, accordingly it will evolve. It is not the system that we evolve which is important; the understanding that we have and the way we implement the system is more important than the structure or the system itself. It is not the rules but the spirit behind the rules that is more important.
So let me briefly enunciate the spirit so that we can look at this whole question of evaluation from that point of view. We are saying that every child is unique, that it has come here to live, to grow and it is our task to help that child develop in all aspects of his or her life. Now life is a whole thing and it is difficult to talk about the whole. So one divides and talks about the physical, the intellectual, the emotional and the spiritual aspects of life. By its very nature one can only think like that, analytically, one can think only in terms of the parts, but I think it is important to bear in mind that the parts are not independent of each other. That you cannot think of the physical development completely apart from the emotional development or the intellectual development and they are not unrelated to the, what may be called the spiritual development. I will presently define what I mean by the spiritual as that word it is used in various senses. So, keeping in mind that the whole thing is one interconnected whole, we can still talk about each aspect, because that is how one analyses, or investigates. It is important to remember that as teachers, it is not our role to judge the child. Evaluation is something different from judgment. Evaluation is really a description of the present state of development of that child. For that I need to evaluate the physical, the emotional, the intellectual and the spiritual development of the child; but that is not the same thing as judging. Judging means I put him low or high, I condemn him or I say he is inferior, he is weak, he is good for nothing and so on or he is great, he is bright, he is intelligent, he is special, he is unique. That is not the role of the teacher. It would be as wrong for us to assume that role as it would be for a doctor to do that with his patients in a hospital. He is there to help the patient. It is not his job to say that he is a bad patient, he is a good patient, an ideal patient or a difficult patient. Whatever that man may be, it is the role of the doctor to help that man become healthy. In the same way, the child has come here, he has his own strengths and his weaknesses, his capacities, his genetic inheritance and that is the child that is there before me and it is my role to be a friend to that child and help him grow in all these aspects as best as my capacities and resources permit. That is the only question that has real value. As a part of the spirit of a K place it has no value to compare one child with another and to say this child is superior, that child is inferior or to brand the child. That is not the purpose of the school because it does not help the child if we do that. May be he is weak in Mathematics or physically weak; if, therefore, I condemn him, I look down on him, does that help him to grow is the question ? Obviously it doesn’t. So the K School is saying don’t compare one child with another and therefore in evaluation also I am not evaluating in order to compare one child with another or to rank them or to hold one child as an ideal for another child to imitate or follow.
It is a little like a gardener who is looking after the whole garden. He is helping every plant in the garden to grow the hedge, the small plant, the big tree – he is not judging, he is not comparing, he is not saying this a lousy rose and that is a good one, I will give more water to this one and less water to that one. He is just giving manure to the whole garden and he is protecting the weak one, if it is falling, he is putting a stick there because that is what the plant needs. So you are only doing what is needed for that life to grow and remember that it is not we who make it grow. The learning, the growth is all ingrained in the child. If you have watched, as you have I am sure, you must have noticed the tremendous amount of learning and growth that takes place between the ages of zero to three. We hardly do anything to make that growth happen and yet we can block it. So if you just let it happen and you provide the right atmosphere, it flourish, the growth takes place. It is a little like that even afterwards. If you give opportunities for the child to develop, then that sensitivity, that skill develops in the child, but it is wrong to think that we develop it in the child. The child has the inherent capacity for this intelligence to develop and when I provide the right environment, it facilitates that learning. So we are as teachers merely facilitators to a natural process which takes place. We are not dictators trying to dictate what the child should be. Keeping that in mind is central to the spirit of a K school. Also the fact that one is looking upon life holistically and not taking responsibility only for developing or cultivating one particular aspect of it; being aware that one has set up this whole place to educate the child in all the aspects, without giving greater importance to one than another, because one realizes that it is a single interdependent whole.
Now, there is this whole question of societal pressure and so on. I am not neglecting that; I am just stating what our vision is? We may not be able to accomplish it partly because of our limitations, partly because of the limitations imposed by society, by the Board and all that. We should discuss all that first if it is clear what our vision is, then I think we can discuss intelligently how to meet the societal pressures and so on and to what extent we can work with the spirit with which this place intends to operate. So I ask myself, if that is how we want to impart education, if this is the meaning we are giving to education, if this is the spirit in which we are approaching this whole thing, then what is the meaning of evaluation? What is the purpose of evaluation if I am not ranking the child, if I am not comparing him with another child. I think there is then a very simple and rational meaning or purpose for evaluation. Consider an area which one regards not as a profession, but as a hobby. If as a hobby I want to learn the French language, perceive the beauty of the French language, I would go to a teacher, I would join some school which teaches French. I would start learning French the way they are teaching, plus of course by my own efforts. I may get CDs, I may practice French-speaking myself. I have this teacher who is helping me, I use the library facilities etc., but I am basically interested in learning this. After a time, wouldn’t I be interested in knowing how am I doing, where are my weaknesses, where are my strengths, where do I need to pay more attention and wouldn’t my teacher also, if he is interested in helping me, need to know all that? Doesn’t he need to know exactly where I stand in order to determine what future course of action is needed for that particular aspect? If that is true for a hobby or for French language, why is it not true for the whole of education? Of course it is.
So it seems to me that is how we must approach evaluation. I want an accurate description of the state of the child as he is now. That description I must give to the parents because they are also interested in the development of the child, they are also co-teachers along with me in different aspects. They are also involved in the bringing up and the growth of the child, so I must give them a report. I need to know all that myself too with regard to the child. May be he is weak in something, I need to pay more attention there; I might need to do remedial work and so on. To my mind that is the only purpose of evaluation; not comparing that child with any other child or calling him inferior or superior. When we look at the whole, how do you decide superiority or inferiority and what does it mean superiority or inferiority, to do what? I am not interested in using this child to do some work, I am not looking upon the child that way. He will eventually do some work but that is not directing my approach to him in education. So, the purpose of evaluation in a place like our school is to learn about the child. To learn about the child, I must observe the child, I must study the child. The only way to know something intimately, which is necessary if I have to take right decisions about that thing, I must study that thing, examine, know exactly every detail; otherwise my opinion has very little meaning. As it is opinions do not have too much value, only facts have value. And an opinion that is given without deep study has no value whatsoever. So, if I have to make an opinion about what is right for the child, the first thing is I must know the child, his strengths, his weaknesses, his capacities, the problems that he is facing. If I want to advise him I need to know all that and to my mind that is the purpose of evaluation.
So what should we look for in evaluation in a K school? Coming to it from this spirit, what would I look for in evaluating a child? Let us take the physical aspect first. I must notice whether he has energy, whether he is eating the right kind of food, if he is lazy, what is making him lazy, if he is sick, what is making him sick. If he is not strong enough, not muscular enough, why is that so? I must watch whether he is interested in games and sports or yoga and gymnastics, whether he is physically active. I would watch the cleanliness with which he lives both in his room, the way he keeps the room and in his personal body, his hair, his nails, whether he is having a bath regularly or not. I must watch all that without condemning or praising — just factually. First I must know the child and the reasons behind that. After we have known him in all the aspects, then we should ask the question, what can we do to help him in all aspects, including the intellectual aspects? I must observe his capacity to reason, the clarity of his thinking, his ability to express himself, the language, his imagination which shows out in literature and poetry, all those intellectual skills which we are trying to cultivate through mathematics, through physics and through history. It is not terribly important whether you are doing this part of mathematics or that part of mathematics, whether you are teaching this history or that history, because whatever you are teaching is a very small portion of the total knowledge that is out there. You cannot possibly give him all the knowledge that is there in the world. We ourselves don’t have it either; it is not necessary to know everything. But in learning that small bit the child cultivates a certain skill or ability, a certain capacity to think and to learn for oneself, which is important. That is what education is giving to the child. We think the knowledge imparted is very important, but I am questioning that; because that knowledge is zero when compared to the total knowledge out there. So whether you give a little bigger zero or a smaller zero makes not much difference; it is the skills that we impart that are important. The ability to think and learn for oneself is the real gift that the education is giving to the child.
If you recall your own childhood and student days, you will see that most of the things you learnt then you have forgotten. At that time they were there in your memory, but you have lost it now. What has remained with you is what is there after all that knowledge is forgotten, the capacities which I acquired, that is what education gave me. So I must watch how his real capacities are developing – the capacity to learn for himself, the capacity to think logically, clearly, to feel the beauty of literature, to have the ability to express himself – those are all capacities which we are trying to cultivate. Memory is also a useful capacity, but it is not the primary thing. Memory is always very limited and so is the knowledge held in memory. Also the intellectual development of the child – I need to evaluate all that. For the emotional development, I must observe his relationships. His relationship to nature, the sense of aesthetics, his feeling in literature, the appreciation of beauty, art, dance, drama, his relationship to his colleagues – is he kind, is he gentle, is he affectionate, is he violent, is he aggressive, is he egoistic, is he morose, is he living with joy? All that is part of the emotional development of the child. We must observe all this without condemning or extolling the child. First I need to know and understand him factually. Unless I have an accurate picture of what he is, I cannot really decide what is the right way to deal with him, to help him. So I need to observe all this in the child in order to evaluate him.
Then there is the so-called spiritual aspect. The spiritual is connected with the spirit, not so much with what he is doing and what he is not doing, but the spirit with which he is living. Is he living happily, joyously or is he morose, always-in conflict, struggling, frustrated – that determines the spirit with which he is operating in life. I need to look at that. A child may be doing very little but in the right spirit and another child may be doing a lot, but in a demented spirit. The spirit is not connected with how much you are doing and how skillfully you are doing. It is an inner state and it is very important in a K school. I said earlier that the main difference in a K-School lies in the spirit with which one is working and it includes the spirit with which the child is living. Is he curious? Is he inquiring is he learning or is he only memorizing? That is important. Because if he is only memorizing, he is not developing spiritually, his capacity to inquire, to learn, to wonder is thwarted and that is important. To a K-school it is terribly important that we do not destroy that spirit. I think it was Einstein who made a statement saying that it is a miracle that the tender plant of curiosity survives everything that we do in education to destroy it ! We are not the exact words, but in that spirit he said that. You are filling the child with ideas, with knowledge but in spite of that somewhere this spirit of inquiry of not accepting, of being skeptical, of learning for himself, of wondering, still survives in the human being. Nature has imbued the human consciousness with this capacity, which is a spiritual capacity. It relates to the spirit. We don’t create it. It is there. Can we respect that spirit and let it grow and not destroy it? So I need to watch that. I would include in the evaluation of the child whether he has a sense of wonder, whether he is learning for himself, whether he is inquiring or he is only studying for the limited aim of getting some marks in the examination. I would be concerned about that. I would watch his generosity, is he living narrow-mindedly trying to get things for himself, how is he with his friends, is he generous, is he large hearted? How does he respond when he is hurt? Is he violent, is he wanting to retaliate or there is a quality of affection; all that is part of the spiritual development of the child. It is also connected with the emotional. You can’t divide the two. So I am going to watch all this. His relationship with nature, his aesthetics, all of which we are trying to help him cultivate. I need to factually observe all this, again without condemning or extolling, just in order to know the child. As I am concerned with educating holistically, I must report on all these aspects. I must give the exact report of his physical condition, his intellectual state, his emotional state and his spiritual growth. So it is a factual description of the child as it is, without any comparison with any other child. So the spirit in which you evaluate matters far more than what you do. Why you evaluate matters more than the evaluation itself. From the vision of a K-school that is what evaluation would mean.
What are the difficulties in doing this? And how do we help the child overcome that difficulty? As you know, one of the big difficulties is this tremendous importance that the child’s mind gives to the marks that he is going to get in the examination. For the children that becomes the aim of education. We may talk all this, but in the mind of the child he is not concerned about emotional development, holistic education, and so on, he sees that when I get more marks in the examination I am appreciated and I am liked, I am held as a hero and when I get low marks, then my parents, everybody, look down on me. So that becomes the central factor. Put yourself in the position of the child. He is also wanting to be appreciated, he wants to be liked and he does not like to be snubbed, so the whole business of reward and punishment is operating there, though outwardly we may not give rewards and punishments. When you appreciate, it is a reward and when you snub a child and look down on him, it is a punishment. That is a very big difficulty, because it limits education and his learning to a very side purpose. I don’t say it is not important to get marks in the examination, but when you give too much importance to that, then you are going to find the short cuts to do that and you are going to escape all learning. Then you are not interested in pursuing the beauty, you are not interested in understanding the subject, you are postponing all that, saying my first need is to get marks in that examination. The student feels, to get marks in the examination they are going to put me these questions and I have to only answer these questions, it doesn’t matter whether I have understood those answers or not, so let me memorize. Actually, in society we object to a child who copies in the examination because we say you have not learnt that for yourself; you are noting down what your friend is writing and putting that and getting marks, which is cheating, and we catch hold of that child and rusticate him. I am asking, if a child has just memorized the answers, has not understood the subject, writes the right things in the examination and therefore gets marks, is that not also cheating? In what way is it better than copying to which we object so much or are we saying the memorization of answers is education? Is it? We talked about education as cultivation of all these capacities – the ability to express yourself, to learn for yourself, to critically think about things, to appreciate beauty and I am trying to cultivate these skills. Is memorization of the answer cultivating those skills? So if I am helping him to do that, I am helping him to cheat !
Of course, memory is also an important capacity to cultivate. So, we must inquire when memory is part of learning and when memory is an escape from learning. If learning is the development of all the capacities, then the development of memory is also a part of learning but not when but not when I use memory in order to avoid understanding the nuances of the subject. I can memorize the Newton’s laws, memorize the definitions, without knowing what it means. I have memorized because all they are going to ask me in the examination is to state Newton’s laws. I will state them and I will get the marks, but I have not understood what it means. Is that learning? Memory is being cultivated. He might remember these sentences for all his life, but is it learning? The real skill has not been cultivated; the understanding has not been cultivated. He has not seen the logic of it, he doesn’t know why. Similarly one can memorize that the wavelength of red light is more than the wavelength of blue and tick the right answer on the question paper and get marks without knowing what wavelength means. Then, is it learning? So this whole emphasis on the marks in the examination is a way of deceiving ourselves. I am not saying marks in the examination are not important. I am saying they are not the aim of education. We said what the aims of education are. If I fulfill those aims, I am learning, I am curious, I am understanding the subject, I am seeing the beauty of it, I am developing the skills of reasoning and precision and all that. The question paper is aimed at evaluating me, however, perfectly or imperfectly. But the evaluation is not the aim of education. The evaluation has to be an accurate description of me. It is not an accurate description when you give me 90% marks but I cannot speak two sentences in English correctly. It doesn’t matter if the whole society is being deceived, I am also being deceived and the teachers are also being deceived themselves by thinking that they have given me a very good education. The fact is that I cannot write two sentences correctly. What good is that number 80 or 90, which is on the paper, if it is a false representation of my actual state of learning?
Once I was trying to explain this to the senior students in a culture class and they were not catching it at all, so I exaggerated it. I said, “You came here in class-II and you are with us till class-XII for some 10 years. At the end of it you get these 10 mark sheets with numbers written on them and the school receives the fees, which your parents pay. So why don’t you ask your parents to send that much fees and I will as Principal give you these 10 sheets, why do we have to go through all this rigmarole of classes and teachers for 10 years. It is a bother for the teachers, it is a bother for you. You want those sheets with high numbers, I will give them to you and the school wants the money so you give us the money and let us forget about this whole thing!” Then they said, “No, Sir, how can that be?” and I asked them, “Why not?”. In answering that question they learnt many things they had never questioned because the mind gets conditioned into thinking that it is terribly important to get high marks in the examinations and does not examine whether that is true or false. If you have not cultivated the skills and the ability, it doesn’t matter how you manage to get the marks, you are still deceiving yourselves, the teachers, the parents and the society because the marks do not reflect the true ability and education is really about cultivating abilities which include sensitivities, skills of different types – intellectual, emotional, everything.
The problem is not because of examinations. It is because we do not approach them rightly. If I have first cultivated all the capacities to the best of my ability and then take the examination, it is quite a different matter. Then I study not in order to get marks in the examination that is not the aim. I study in order to learn, to cultivate those skills, those capacities. Having done so, I go to my teacher and say, will you please evaluate and let me know where I stand and the teacher gives me an examination, I want to do well in the examination. That examination has its own peculiarities. So I now have something like a hurdle race to overcome and I want to do that intelligently and that intelligence has already been cultivated through the education. Then I can intelligently address this problem of examination. I don’t substitute that for the learning. To learn and then deal with the examination is all right. But if you don’t learn and only deal with the examination, then, you have thrown the baby with the bath water. Don’t say examination is evil or examination is great. You have to put the examination in its right place. We are trying to ascertain what is the right place and I am saying we have given it a wrong place in the mind of the child and perhaps also in our minds. We have given it a wrong place if it is becoming an avoidance of learning. When a student memorizes a formula without knowing how it is derived he has learnt nothing. He is only coping with the examination. The problem is not with the examination or the marks. The problem is the importance I am giving to those marks. They are not really important unless they are a true reflection of the actual state of my understanding and my skills, a true description of me.
So, what should the examinations be like? When I want to evaluate the child, his intelligence, his skills, what kind of examination should it be ? I must have an examination which doesn’t let him answer just by memorizing, by rote. So as a teacher, I have to make the question paper in such a way that it cannot be done just by rote otherwise it is not discriminating, between intelligence and memory. Has he intelligently understood or he has just memorized that? To bring home the point, let me deliberately exaggerate a bit. I can dictate notes, tell them this is the question, that is the answer, and ask the student to memorize the answers. Since there are only about 20 different questions, which come in the question paper, I can teach Physics like that. This is what the coaching classes are doing. The students all get first division, so I am regarded as a good teacher. The parents are also happy. But is that education? Obviously it is not. Now that is one extreme. The other extreme is you don’t give any notes, you don’t emphasize memory, you just talk for the beauty of it and so on and therefore he learns creatively but fails at the examination because he sits down there and starts deriving everything and he does not have the time to complete the paper. So he has not developed the skills of doing the examination. That is the other extreme. Then again the marks are not reflecting the true understanding of the child. So in both extremes we go wrong, so we must not posit it as either/or. We have to do both; both are our responsibility. Learning is far more important but I also want him to do well at the examination that is also important. As children, we have also grown up through all this. We don’t have to make them like us, because we are not perfect either. So can we together examine what is true and what is false in it? Ultimately, if those marks are false, it has no value.
It is important not to say this is not possible in the time given to us and therefore maintain the status-quo. We must try new, innovative ways of learning and evaluation, even if that leads to some mistakes. Ultimately in life there is no guarantee that no mistakes will be committed. In fact there is almost a guarantee that mistakes will occur. The question is how do we approach the mistakes? Do you approach mistakes as opportunities for learning? Or do we judge mistakes and then look down on the one who has committed the mistakes and say, it should not have happened. Then we are suppressing we are creating fear. Otherwise mistakes are normal things, if you are too afraid of mistakes all sense of adventure goes away. Then you do not try anything new because it may lead to a mistake and therefore all creativity goes away. That is this business of seeking security in a mechanical way of functioning because any creative way will try something new. Of course it may or may not work. But do I want an accurate description of myself or I want only praise? That is what brings in the false.
Intelligence is the ability to deal with any situation creatively. If I have first cultivated intelligence which means the ability to handle different types of problems to think out of new ways of doing it and so on I can handle examination also intelligently, but if you have not made me intelligent, you have made me rely on memory, no thinking, no innovativeness, no new way of handling the thing, then I handle the examination also unintelligently which means more memorization because that is what I have been trained to do. To me it is a great tragedy when I see so many of our children before the examination sitting with books and cramming the answers as if what is happening in the last 15 minutes before the examination matters. Actually it is supposed to be an evaluation of my development, not just what I cram in the last 15 minutes. The child’s mind is approaching it wrongly. He does not know, poor fellow. We have not been able to communicate all this, which we are ourselves trying to understand, to their mind. So to them it appears that that alone matters and they feel very insecure if they don’t get marks but they don’t feel insecure if they don’t know English, or they don’t know poetry. If they don’t know Mathematics, they are not bothered so long as those marks will come. I am exaggerating but to some extent it is true.
Shortly we are going to have these admission tests and it is important for us to think about that. The way we look upon the admission test must relate with the spirit of a K school. In the normal school the admission test is done in order to compare one child with another and to take that child which is intellectually bright because they want the bright students to join their school. We are saying that is not true. It doesn’t matter too much whether a child is weak or strong. It is my responsibility to help him to grow holistically in all aspects. So it cannot be that I am going to take only the bright child and leave out the dull child because I am equally interested in the dull child, so the spirit tells me that that would be a wrong way of approaching the admission test. All evaluation and testing is just to make an accurate description of what that child is at present. I want that input from the admission test. Where does he stand in language, where does he stand in Mathematics, which is limited, but I need to have some idea of where this child stands in academics. Then I need to know the background, the family, the cultural background from which he is coming and so on. Whether the parents are interested in this kind of education, whether they value it. Otherwise the child is going to perceive one kind of atmosphere here, another kind at home and all those problems will be there. I am not objecting to those problems. I am just trying to assess all that and when I have all this factual information as much as we can get in that half an hour or 2 hours we look at that child. I look at all this data and I ask myself the question: Am I in a position to help this child? If he is too weak I may need lot of remedial work, he may need private tutoring which I cannot provide here. So I don’t want to take a responsibility, which I can’t discharge. From that point of view I would assess, that yes, this child we can help, this child we may not be able to help. So when I do have to choose, I choose the child whom I can help. So it is not just the marks that decide. Sometimes we have rejected children who are academically very bright but there are other considerations by which we feel that he won’t benefit from the atmosphere here. That is the only consideration on the basis of which I would take a child and the academic evaluation helps me to decide that if I do accept him for the school which class should I put him in. What would be right for that child, what level should I put him in? If we have the facilities available and we can help a child it is wrong not to take that child just because that child is weak or needs to be helped more. We exist here and the whole place exists to help him and therefore it is our duty to take him and help him to whatever extent we are able. But when the seats are limited and when I have many applicants I choose the one whom I will be able to help best.