Row over ethics quiz in Class XII papers

New Delhi, March 16: A move by India's largest school board to introduce questions on ethics and values in the subject papers of its Class XII board exams has stirred controversy with experts questioning its projected benefits.

Each paper in this year's Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Class XII exams had questions on ethics and values carrying up to four marks, while the remaining questions dealt exclusively with the subject syllabus.

The physics paper, for instance, had a question that sought the students' views on compassion. (See chart)

An estimated two million Class XII students from several thousand schools across the country took the CBSE board exams that ended last week. The CBSE says the value-related questions are intended to sensitise students to ethics and values.

But senior schoolteachers and educational psychologists have questioned the wisdom of adding questions on ethics and values to tests designed to evaluate students' knowledge of specific subjects.

"This is ridiculous. Value education is necessary but it should be separated from science tests," said K. Subbaramaiah, former president of the Indian Association of Physics Teachers, a nationwide body.

"Are they trying to test a candidate's knowledge of a subject, say physics, or the candidate's values?" said Gummadi Venkatesh Kumar, a professor of psychology at the University of Mysore.

The CBSE took this initiative on the advice of a panel of experts on value education, chaired by Ameeta Wattal, the principal of Springdales School in Delhi.

Wattal said that learning had become mechanical in schools over the past few years, and that the panel felt the absence of a connection between the learning imparted and real-life situations.

"Value education has to be integrated with other activities, whether it's teaching, or the school assembly, or other initiatives. Teaching has to reflect the larger realities of life," Wattal told The Telegraph.

Ashok Pandey, principal of Ahlcon International School, who is associated with the CBSE's value education programme, said the ethics questions sought to assess the students' understanding on value as well as domain knowledge.

Senior faculty members at the Indian Institutes of Technology in Mumbai and Kanpur said there was no evidence that introducing value education questions in subject papers would benefit either students or the country.

"Are they suggesting that adding such questions will change the country?" said Dheeraj Sanghi, professor of computer science and engineering at IIT Kanpur. "How will science teachers evaluate answers to such questions?"

Azizuddin Khan, an assistant professor of psychology at IIT Bombay, said value-related questions in science subjects could distract students and that answering a sequence of unrelated questions might "affect their chain of thought".

"There is an assumption here without scientific evidence that doing this would improve the candidates' morals and values," Khan said.

"But values are gained over time and are influenced by many factors, including family and upbringing."

Proponents of the move say that ideally, the value-based questions should be crafted so as to simultaneously test some aspect of the subject too. But, they say, some of the questions posed this year may have been poorly designed.

The question on endoscopy may be such as an example, said Pandey. "In future, questions should be formulated in such a manner that the assessment of values and the knowledge of the subject matter are properly integrated."

"I think we should give the paper setters a chance; maybe they'll do it better next year," said G.B. Reddy, a member of the physics faculty at IIT Delhi.