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Its wrong to think formative assessment is a test

Barnana Hemoprava Sarkar

Maya Menon talks about formative assessment.

Maya Menon, who has worked in the field of education for more than 30 years, tells The Observer what has gone wrong with formative assessment-test conducted by teachers in the middle of the term to understand the student's position in class. Steps should be taken to provide children better help to improve their education, the founder director of The Teacher Foundation says. Excerpts from an interview:

Q: Is the formative assessment test helping the student?
A: First, we need to correct the idea that a formative assessment equals a test, because it is not so. It is supposed to inform the teacher how much the child has learnt. The CBSE spoils the understanding of formative assessment by making it a test. It is not about checking and marking. “Formative” can be likened to a doctor using a thermometer to measure the temperature of a child to detect his/her disease, to prescribe medicines. This information is more for the teacher so he/she can take corrective measures to enhance the child’s development.

Q: The Teachers’ Association prepares question papers despite instructions by the Department of Public Instruction that respective subject teachers should prepare them.
A: This is what the government has to take measures against. It is their teachers; they should make sure it is set by those who are assigned to do so, and not by the associations. And that is not something which you or I can change. The government knows about it and should do something about it.

Q: Aren’t glitches in the system hampering the student’s state of mind?
A: There are lots of glitches…. But children are resilient and have this amazing capacity to overcome all these. But that does not make it OK to do so. A child is forced to cope with all the mess that we create in schools and during examinations. It’s not fair, it’s not right and it’s certainly not how we raise the youth of our country. We have to put the child’s interest before everything. Often, decisions at schools are taken based on convenience rather than on… what is required for children. We need to get out of this.

Q: If the system is hampering the children, do you think they should be informed about it?
A: Even if we inform them, they are too young to make decisions. How can we expect children six to ten years old to specify the kind of education they expect from their school? By the time they are old enough to make decisions, they are already out of school, and all those years in school go waste. Who has to make those demands then? It is the adult who works in the child’s favour that should do it. That includes their parents and teachers. It is a huge responsibility, particularly on teachers and departments of education, to make decisions with the child’s interest at heart. In a populated country like India where many children come from underprivileged backgrounds, the parents do not have the right means to take proper decisions.

Q: Are there alternative ways to help educate the child?
A: Of course. There are a lot of tested methods, including our current work in training and supporting teachers. There are several ways to work with children, notwithstanding the large number of students in a class. We take in teachers who are already working in a school. We do a needs analysis, where we analyze what the school needs and how the teachers teach. Based on that, we work out a list of primary areas that need to be improved. Then we train the teachers in methods that help them impart education in a better way.