I used to sit on the 21st floor. Now I am retired

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Knowledge, Understanding and Application

In the year 1998, the great Destiny-Controller happened to pick on English, the language of the tyrants.

"Those who has master it, deserve to be kicks to their gullets. Let us gave them lesser marks" might have said Mr. B.P. Khandelwal (great Destiny-Controller) also known as Chairman, CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education). Kicks he gave to a lot of us that year.

Hence, thousands of students were shocked (some pleasantly, I must say) to see their marks in English (Core).

A few of my friends and I, who had a record of never getting less than 90 in this language of tyrants, were given 66, 73, 74 and 78. I just about made the cut-off in the college that I wanted desperately to be in. Some of us like L in my class weren't as lucky and were seen to be sad for a few years after that.

We should have gone and met Khandelwal then. Another parent who did, writes:

"Khandelwal’s advice was that one must adopt a philosophical attitude towards mark assessments. He pointed out that even the great poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan’s father, was not awarded a first class in English by Allahabad University in his MA."

The Destiny-Controller is also a closet Wise-Philosopher.

Amongst other things, he is also the Great-Logician. Two of my influential batchmates (one of whom I met at college) managed to get through to him and got to see their papers. Both had lots of mistakes and they, feeling inappropriately indignant, told a reporter. The reporter got carried away with a false sense of justice and the dailies carried the news.

If only he had checked with the Great-Logician first. Quick to pounce upon such idiocy, the Great-Logician Wise-Philosopher Destiny-Controller, smiled and gave a comment for the ages.

"Only two papers have mistakes. Even the best systems make such mistakes"

I, ever foolhardy and curious, attempted to ask for a retotalling (recheck was out of the question, said the Board). In three months (much after the date on which any revision would be relevant) I got a letter back.
"No mistakes has been found" said It.
"Yes, you is correct", said I.

And so, history keeps on repeating itself year on year. Now, CBSE has taken the role of the Great-Oracle and the Comedian-Supreme. Since it knows the answers to all, it publishes a few of them on its web-site under the Sample Papers section. The papers reveal two things.

On one hand, the way a paper is set is amazingly well-thought through. It has for instance, in the Economics paper, neatly sub-divided the student's mental process into three parts. - 30% knowledge, 50% understanding and 20% application.

On the other hand, the answers to the questions are inspiring, humourous and deliciously ironic, while catering to the lowest common denominator. Let me illustrate.

Since the focus of English Core is on applied English, one section focuses on the important skills of note-taking and summary-writing. Check this question out:

"In the democratic countries, intelligence is still free to ask whatever question it chooses. This freedom, it is almost certain, will not survive another war. Educationists should, therefore, do all they can, while there is yet time, to build up, the men and women of the next generation who will otherwise be at the mercy of that skilful propagandist who contrives to seize the instruments of information and persuasion. Resistance to suggestion can be built up in two ways. First, children can be taught to rely on their own internal resources and not to depend on incessant stimulation from without. This is doubly important. Reliance on external stimulation is bad for the character. Moreover, such stimulation is the stuff with which propagandists bait their books, the jam in which dictators conceal their ideological pills. An individual who relies on external stimulations thereby exposes himself to the full force of whatever propaganda is being made in his neighborhood. For a majority of people in the West; purposeless reading, purposeless listening-in, purposeless listening to radios, purposeless looking at films have become addictions, psychological equivalents of alcoholism and morphinism....."
Q) On the basis of your reading of the above passage make notes on it using headings and sub-headings. Use recognizable abbreviations wherever
necessary. 5 Marks

Firstly, most students will become better individuals after reading such a carefully chosen passage. Thank God, some of my friends who I knew were out of school before developing a sense of outrage. The question also opens a few existential dilemmas. Especially the 'recognizable (by whom?) abbreviations wherever necessary (who will decide?)' part. As always the Comedian-Supreme Wise-Philosopher has the answers:

A) "Title - Developing Resistance to Suggestion
1. Resistance to suggestion can be built upon in two ways
(a) Childr. rely on themselves
(b) Not on external stimulatn.
(c) Ext. stimulatn.
(i) bad for character
(ii) propagandists use it
(iii) dictators use it
(iv) gets addictive
(v) dep. on spiritual help
2. How sh. childr. be taught to rely on themselves.
(a) self entertainment
(b) musical instruments
(c) scientific observation
3. Ed. not to take the line of least defence
(a) critically analyses
(b) react to suggestions right way - right time"

If you go past the lack of any structure, thought or linkages between sentences or indeed between points and sub-points, you will notice recognisable abbreviations -
'Sh.' instead of should, while other verbs do not get mangled. Stimulation shortened to 'Stimulatn.' to aid in quick note-taking, while suggestions and observation stay the same to aid in understanding.

Other applied English questions are similarly enlightening. Look, for instance at the answer key to the sale of old computer advertisement question.

Q) You want to sell off your old computer as you have purchased a new one. Draft an advertisement to be published in the Times of India under classified columns giving its details & the expected price. You are Shan of C5 Saket, New Delhi (word limit : 50)

A) "Sale of computer notice should have the following in content - Size of screen/monitor, RAM-floppy drive, UPS etc., Windows 98 or xp etc., Expected price (3 marks). "

Why these 5 characteristics should give 3 marks in an English paper is obviously self-evident to the Omnipotent-Encyclopedia. And to the 50-year old men and women who would be marking the transcripts for Rs. 6.50 each
If any particularly creative student would write hard-disk size or microprocessor speed instead, woe to him.

The literature questions and answers are also similarly easy to understand.
Q) What do you learn about Hardy’s views on war in the poem ‘The Man He Killed’?
A) "Hardy is saddened by / disapproves of war which forces people into regarding fellow human beings as enemies whom they would have befriended in other circumstances."

If on the other hand, any enthusiastic student will comment on the way in which people are ranged against each other in war rather choosing it themselves, or will comment on the lack of a patriotic motive or idealism amongst common soldiers, he will obviously get zero. Hardy might have tried to write a delicately nuanced poem. The Broad-Simplifier has ensured that it becomes a great leveller instead. Everyone therefore stands a chance in English Core. Except for some like my friends who were seen unhappy for a few years.

Here's an ode to the Great-Logician Wise-Philosopher Destiny-Controller Great-Oracle Comedian-Supreme Omnipotent-Encyclopedia Broad-Simplifier. You is really best than ourselves.


Blogger the saint said...


i never figured this out - i always topped english except for 10th and 12th boards were people who couldn't string two complete sentences together easily outscored me..

everybody kept on telling me i was overconfident...

the mystery is now solved

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 4:04:00 AM

Blogger dhoomketu said...

Yes, the mystery is solved... But how does that stop people from calling you overconfident!!? ;-)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 8:41:00 AM

Blogger the saint said...

their vocab has evolved..
now they just call me arrogant!

whereas i am just a shy guy...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 8:11:00 PM

Blogger Shishir Choudhary said...

I have seen that many exams actually test whether you know expectations of the examiner well or not rather than real knowledge. :) Though the examples you have illustrated are shameful for english dept of cbse :D

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 9:00:00 PM

Anonymous Khunger said...

Bwhahaha...well put...I remember the "No mistakes has been found" bit...

By the way, if I can't correctly type "ixfkdgmw" into a text box below, I'm a robot and my post should be disregarded.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 10:16:00 PM

Blogger dhoomketu said...

Khunger, you used to look like a robot even without the ability (or lack of it) of typing "ixfkdgmw". Where have you been? Have you been to London to see the ___?

Friday, February 17, 2006 2:25:00 AM

Blogger Manu said...

CBSE sheeet hit us in the face as well in NPS in 2000. People with 390/400 levels in PCM and Comp Sc ended up with 69 (moi), 70 odd (the skimp) and 80 (the topper), thus earning ourselves universal rejections from the famed BITS of 10 pointer fame.

Friday, March 31, 2006 10:39:00 AM

Blogger corporate whore said...

Murli manohar joshi (of fiddle with NCERT textbook fame) and Macaulay (white man's burden fame) will be turnin in their respective graves. i know, its a pity MMM doesnt have a grave of his own yet.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006 9:10:00 AM

Blogger Shan said...

Good examples Dhoomketu. But other than the ridiculous parts, I still feel that the basic structure of testing that CBSE had adopted is sound. For example now they evidently have measurable objectives for each chapted and then the classification of knowledhe, skills, and application. That is encouraging to an instructional designer like me.

However, as is evident, the nub lies in the application of this structure, and that is obviously noth there. Sad...

Thursday, May 25, 2006 9:08:00 PM

Blogger ad libber said...

Yes, I remember that bit, having topped in English for three years straight, it was a huge blow getting a 67 in my class 10th while my people who relied mostly on luck did get through because of luck. Next time, I made the sensible choice of selecting Elective English, where the question pattern was equally foolish (they used those reference to context questions like from the previous paragraph, answer what is the speed of a hummingbird, 4 marks) but marked by a more sensible board of teachers.
@the saint
I was called overconfident too, have made a list of those people and a comprehensive plant o murder them all.

Friday, September 28, 2007 2:04:00 PM


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