If you don’t know an answer, repeat the question: Edu director advice

A video of the Delhi government’s Director of Education addressing Delhi government school students in their classroom, telling them to attempt every question in their exams even if it means just copying out the question again, has raised eyebrows among a section of the teaching community.

In the video, Director Udit Prakash Rai can also be heard telling the class that he has spoken to their teacher, and that the department has also spoken to the Central Board of Secondary Education, to give students marks if they write anything — even if just the question — in their answer scripts.

While Rai, a 2007 batch IAS officer, did not respond to multiple attempts for queries from The Indian Express, a senior member of the education department said Rai’s statements should not be “misinterpreted” and that it is part of an attempt by him to encourage students. “It has been a very bad year, and he was speaking with the spirit of supporting students. Lots of students have lost out on their writing practice. He was speaking in a very direct way, and what he had basically been trying to tell students was ‘don’t be disheartened, don’t worry about the CBSE or anyone else, just write’.”

Class X and XII students had returned to their schools from January 18, and Delhi government school students in these grades are in the midst of preparing for and writing periodic assessments. They will also begin writing their pre-board examinations from April 1 and March 20 respectively. Their board examinations begin on May 4.

“If we don’t know the answer to a question, what will we do?… We will not leave the answer for any question blank. If we don’t know the answer to a question, we will just repeat the question. But we must not leave anything blank. Anything — whatever you understand, whatever you remember. If you are not understanding anything, copy out whatever is written as the question as the answer, but don’t leave it blank. I have spoken to your ma’am, she has said that she will give marks if anything is written. We have told CBSE also, if children write anything, they will get marks…,” Rai can be heard saying to a classroom of girls during a round in their school. The head of school and the teacher conducting the class are also present in the classroom.

The video has now circulated amongst teachers through various channels. “For a child sitting in a classroom, ‘CBSE se humari baat ho chuki hai’ kind of statement coming from an external, that too in front of their teacher, holds a lot of significance. An external which is well respected among her/his teachers. This is a negative and discouraging message for teachers who are struggling to complete their syllabus, for those hardworking students… His subtle message was, keep your morality aside and pass every student irrespective of what he/she has written in copy,” the teacher said.

Another teacher said though teachers mark students liberally in final exams and board exams to give them the best chance of passing and saving their academic year or continuing with education, the manner of the interaction was alarming.

“There is a lot of pressure to make as many students pass as possible ever… Usually it comes through a channel from District Directors of Education, to heads of schools, to teachers and then from them to students. As a teacher, I always encourage my students and tell them to write good points in their answers and mark them fairly in assessments to prepare them well for their board exams. Finally, just before the exams, we tell the weakest students — that too in a hushed manner — that it doesn’t matter if they don’t know an answer, just attempt what they can… But here we have the highest officer saying this with confidence,” said the teacher.

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