CBSE should not get into regulation. Let the states do it: Former HRD Secy

Anil Swarup
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has recently announced its decision to regulate admissions to Class 9 and 11 of its affiliated schools. The move is aimed at checking one primary malpractice. Students from non-affiliated schools seek admissions to affiliated ones in these classes to be able to take and clear the CBSE board examinations held in Class 10 and 12. 

The students have till Class 8 not followed the CBSE prescribed curriculum or pedagogy and this affects the results of affiliated schools. To check this, CBSE intends to regulate admissions. However, several school heads are of the view that CBSE is biting off more than it can chew and that the board should resist spreading its tentacles, keep out of school admissions and regulation and restrict itself to conducting examinations. Anil Swarup, former secretary, ministry of HRD and a career bureaucrat, spoke to Anjuli Bhargava on the proposed move and why he thinks it’s ill advised, the role of boards and what he thinks needs to be tackled most urgently. Edited excerpts:

Why would the CBSE want to get into regulating admissions in Class 9 and 11 in your view?

The present CBSE mandate allows it to do this. Its approach is to regulate the process on the assumption that if the process followed is foolproof, the final results will be good. The larger question is whether a board should at all regulate. Should it define and prescribe the books, curriculum, the pedagogy, the size of classrooms and playgrounds or should it stick to conducting a flawless examination? This is a larger debate. Regulation has to come from somewhere. Every country regulates what needs to be taught and how it should be taught. Curriculum and pedagogy are laid out and within the broader framework, schools usually have a fair amount of flexibility. The question that arises is that does regulation have to come from the board. Take for instance SAT, CAT or other such examinations. They focus on conducting the test annually. In my view, the CBSE should focus on conducting the examination and ensuring there are no leaks and so on and not overextend itself. 

Then who should regulate?

I don’t agree with many things in the draft New Education Policy (NEP) but the one area it has got it right is in regulation. Let the states regulate. It is essential to separate the regulator from the provider of education. As things stand, the government funds education. It is a provider/operator and runs government schools. It is also the regulator and policy maker. This leads to a number of conflicts of interest. We have created a regulatory framework where the government schools are unable to set their own house in order but we are coming down heavily on budget private schools (BPS). I’m not saying everything is perfect with budget schools but when we are unable to run our own schools properly, how can we regulate the BPS? The policy seeks to bring ‘policy-making’ under a new Rajya Shiksha Aayog created specifically as the apex body in each state. It also proposes to establish a separate state school regulatory authority (SSRA) to handle the recognition, accreditation and regulation of schools. An alternative system could be to set up an accreditation body by a third party. The government will accredit an agency, which will in turn examine and accredit schools, be it government or private. This way, you set standards and if a school meets those standards, it is recognised, empanelled or accredited. The guidelines will apply to all including government schools. For any idea in a democracy to fructify, it has to be politically acceptable, socially desirable, technologically feasibly, financially viable, administratively doable and judicially tenable. Now, the point is simple. With any change that one proposes, there are vested interests that stand to lose and who will prevent the change at any cost. It is this that we need to grapple with.

Is this what allows the boards to continue to spike marks so that students are achieving 100 per cent at times?

Yes. This ad-hoc spiking of marks is one of the biggest problems we are facing in India. A student scores a total of 84 per cent. The board decides that year to spike every student’s marks by 8 per cent. The student therefore now on paper scores 92 per cent. Now, look at this. The student is happy, the parents are happy, the teachers and school is happy, the board is happy and the college is happy. All are happier with 92 per cent rather than 84 per cent. Who will argue with this? All the stakeholders are happier. Now, when I was secretary, I sat all the states and central boards down and explained how we were doing a dis-service to all our students by spiking the marks in this manner. We are deluding them. Everyone acknowledged this and in that year, two states in fact did not spike marks. But what eventually happened? I started getting calls from all interested parties saying that let it happen (the spiking) this year, stop it from next year and so on. But we went ahead and then what happened? People went to high court and got a stay order. That’s where the tail hangs. This to my mind is one of the worst predicaments facing India’s education system today. Everyone has an interest in living in a world of illusion. And that’s why I say that the mafias in education are underground while those in coal are over ground.

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