Friday 12th of July 2024

When questions are questionable

Morning Mirror Desk »

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Questions of this year’s Bangla papers have left academic and educationists utterly disconsolate. The Bangla first paper question set of Dhaka education board has one particular question in what is called structured or ‘creative’ segment with an overdose of communal slant. The technical board in its second paper had included a malicious question defaming a noted and popular writer by name.

Mind it, these are papers of the country’s mother tongue! There is no scope for dismissing the psyche that has gone into constructing such a communally sensitive question as a momentary lapse. A question setter has to think deep before s/he (in this case a male teacher of the minority community) comes up with a well-formulated creative question. One does not have to be too smart in such an exercise but must be careful about the respondents, their age and emotion involved, environment and the impact a question will make.

In fact, what is a creative question for? It is meant to stimulate the creative aptitude of an examinee to conceptualise the purpose or the core message the question seeks to know. The next step is to get an idea of how best the examinee can use his knowledge for analysis of the substance and apply his or her faculty with the tools at disposal to prepare an answer. Thus the examiner can evaluate the merit of the examinee.

In the Dhaka board’s first paper Bangla, not only have the guidelines set by the authorities been violated but an inappropriate and highly sensitive issue with the potential of damaging communal harmony and triggering inter-communal hatred has also been imported. Imagine the repercussion it is supposed to cause in impressionable minds! It is sure to challenge examinees to imagine the situation involving the two Hindu brothers who cannot see eye to eye and the Muslim man who sacrificed a cow on the land he purchased from one brother but in front of the house of another brother.

The Bangla second paper question names the name of an author who has earned enough fame for his novels. Here he has been denigrated in a vicious way by his portrayal as one craving for cheap popularity and publication of books written in a hurry without seriousness. This is a demonstration of a total lack of sense of propriety on the part of the question setter.

If the question setters in both cases are out of their minds, what about the moderators —four of whom are supposed to vet each question set? Are they equally ignorant of the responsibility and respect for social norms and inviolability of individual rights? The second one is a case of libel and the affected author can bring a libel suit against the education board responsible. Most likely he will not.

The furore over the two questions is quite expected, but are such developments in the education sector unexpected? To go by what has long been taking a heavy toll on education, these are only side effects not the disease proper. In 2019, the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) after a survey of educational institutions all across the country found that 42 per cent teachers fail to understand what structured or ‘creative’ questions are and so cannot prepare questions for examinations. In its May academic supervision report, the DSHE observes that 23 per cent teachers take help of their colleagues in preparing questions while 15 per cent collect questions from different unapproved sources.

They are hardly to blame because, by the DSHE’s own admission, only 45 per cent received training on setting ‘creative questions’ only for three to six days. Training on just question preparation, not on imparting lessons and that too for such a brief period! How outlandish! If teachers cannot appreciate a subject from different angles, asking them to prepare a ‘creative’ question set is out of place.

Question paper leaks have long bedevilled education at the secondary and higher secondary stages. Notes and guide books still reign supreme and coaching centres are doing roaring business. Had education been on the right track and teachers could do justice to class teaching, such deviations would not be a natural consequence. Teachers are found wanting not only in quality but also in moral considerations. This is why the universities do not admit candidates on the basis of scores in SSC and HSC examinations. To put it blankly, they mistrust the achievements and take admission test before accepting candidates for graduation courses.

Why blame the academic shortcomings alone, the capitulation of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) to the undue pressure from an orthodox Islamist party for bringing changes in textbooks has struck the last nail in the secular system’s coffin.

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