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Recently a Madras High Court verdict in the case of S. Nelson Prabhakar v. Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), caught the attention of educational bodies, luminaries and scholars in the field of academics throughout India when it tried to differential between intelligent guessing and wild guessing and stressed upon the need to encourage the former. This was a unique case as it happened for first time in India where the courts recognized that negative marks in competitive exam do hamper the growth of individual’s mind and the country’s grading system should encourage the students to develop their mind through intelligent guessing. The judge also said that this system does not, in anyway, helps the examiner to analyze the intelligence, aptitude or knowledge of the students in any manner.
S Nelson Prabhakar, a schedule caste student applied for B.E/B.Tech examination popularly known as Indian Institute of technology IIT-JEE exam. The said exam, a national level common entrance test is conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) in two stages viz., (i) JEE (Main) and (ii) JEE (Advance) Examination and the candidates who secured the cut off mark in JEE (Main) as per the category, were allowed to write the JEE (Advance) Examination. For every right answer the student got four marks and for every wrong answer one mark was deducted. As far as the petitioner is concerned he has answered 18 questions correctly and given wrong answers for 25 questions.
The petitioner filed a writ petition of mandamus directing the respondent CBSE to revalue the answer sheet of the petitioner. The court granted interim relief to the petitioner to sit in the exam but the CBSE declined to allow him in the exam following he joined a private college and completed the course.
Though the writ petition became infructuous, the petitioner’s lawyer Mrs. A Arulmozhi urged the court to address his concerns against negative marking system which needed immediate reforms. The court also encouraged the petitioner side to state their arguments as the matter was concerned with millions of students. The court said, The CBSE is an autonomous body, which has been conducting examinations and deciding the future of millions and millions of students and its refusal to address the issues and grievances of the students with a disclaimer “disowning responsibility for errors crept-in in the result”, warrants judicial interference to execute their mandatory obligation as the ‘State’ under Article 12 of the Constitution of India, as per constitutional guarantee under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, which has been expanded by the judicial orders to include the education as part of it.
The learned counsel for the petitioner gave examples of various developed countries like U.K, USA, Canada where the system of negative marking is not followed as it discourage the individual to think rationally. The counsel pleaded that even in India, the renowned CMC, Vellore, one of the prestigious colleges in the field of medicine, does not award negative marks in their entrance examination for admission to medical college. The CBSE discarded this by saying that by introducing negative marking, it tries to filter the diligent and deserving candidates for admission to the professional course, as such, the candidates do not answer the questions by guessing.
Justice R Mahadevanafter listening to both the arguments came to a conclusion that deducting marks for wrong answers would not in any way help in analyzing the intelligence, aptitude or knowledge of the candidate. He further said, “Negative marking does not allow a student to develop an element of guessing. Intelligent guessing is an art. It is very useful in our life. One cannot be sure about all things at all times. An individual will come across a situation, where he/she has to decide an issue not merely based on his knowledge, but with little guessing. Wild guessing is another type of guessing. While intelligent guessing requires an amount of prior knowledge on the subject, wild guessing is the decision taken just like that. In a competitive examination, the students come prepared with varied degree of preparation. As such, when a student is not sure about the answer, he/she attempts to take intelligent guessing. This type of intelligent guessing should be permitted and encouraged, as it would help the students in their future life, whereas, the attempt of CBSE in awarding negative marks would totally eradicate the habit of intelligent guessing. Negative marking acts only as a bolt in the brain development of the students.”
The court further stated that the students come from various strata of society and so, negative marking is against the principles of fairness, equality and equity. The system will discourage the students from making a calculated guess in their lives and restrict their risk aptitude, the court observed. “Everyone comes across a situation in life where decisions are taken purely out of intuition. … The threat of negative marks will never allow intuition to grow in a student,” the judge remarked. The court also recognized the fact that there is no scientific proof in support of negative marking system that it helps to choose best candidates from the competitive examination.
Now the question arises here is do intelligent guessing really help an individual and do the negative marking discourages the growth of the brain. What should matter the most is not the score, either negative or positive, but a kind of feedback about a student’s work and effort. The ultimate goal of any education system is to provide students with incentives (positive and/or negative) to influence their level of inspiration and engagement, thus enhancing their academic performance. By awarding negative marks, the intuition of a student is crippled. Everyone comes across a situation in life where decisions are taken purely out of intuition. It may work or may not, but, an element of boldness comes along, while making a decision through intuition. The threat of negative marks will never allow in tuition to grow in a student. Negative marking acts a weight behind the mental strength of a student and the student approaches every question with an element of fear.
Albert Einstein stated, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. When knowledge denotes accumulation of proven facts, imagination explores the areas of disproving the existing belief and paving paths to new world. Imagination is the mother of all inventions and discoveries. Without imagination, there is no creativity. The urge to create something new or develop something new, comes from imagination. In short, imagination is the seed for all the man made developments, on this planet. The threat of negative marking attempts to crush the bud of imagination. Success and failures are like two sides of the same coin. Therefore, a student should be taught to face mistakes and failures and see it a part of life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Indra Kumar Lahoti is a 2nd year law student at Hidayatullah National Law University.
In content picture credit: Live Law