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     Volume 4 Issue 19 | October 29, 2004 |

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Slice of Life


Richa Jha

The day we received our child's first-ever Progress Report Card, I knew we had not fared well. A sealed envelope was handed to me when I went to collect my child from school. From the faint nervousness I felt while taking it, I knew it didn't feel any different from the times when the teacher would unceremoniously distribute our report cards in class, more often than not accompanied with a dissatisfied frown. The frown said a lot then; it said even more now, when to my seemingly casual query of 'so, how is it?', all she managed was a faint smile and a 'I've put down everything, you'll see'. (To the parent standing before me, she'd said, 'oh very good, no complaints whatsoever'.)

My immediate reaction was to tear open the envelope, but I checked myself. There were other parents too. And, if I failed to detect the same tentativeness in their reactions, the only explanation is that they were confident about their child's performance. Or, that they are clever in hiding their emotions.

I thought of my parents and their undetermined anticipation before opening three sets of Report Cards at least three times a year, year after year, for nearly two decades. At that time, to us children, their going through our Cards looked like a fleeting punctuation in their daily routines. We would think that once having studied every ingredient (though we certainly hoped they didn't) on the thick-papered assessment sheet, and having made their comments, they would forget about it for the rest of the term. The parent-teacher meeting was the only other formality that came close to this debilitating (it was never a pleasant one for me) experience; but again, so fully dependant was it on that same scrap of paper, that the two were necessary evils to be seen as partners in scheming against our happiness. Not once would it occur to us that our supposed and recorded progress at school touches the lives of our parents in more ways than one, and at times, more acutely than it may have touched ours.

The Progress Report Card is the sum total of any student's perceived performance at school, and therefore, perhaps the only measure of his success as a student. Since the other parameters of evaluation are too fluid to be assigned any tangible quantifiable values, parents see too, rightly or wrongly, in the Cards a measure of their success or failure as parents.

So when my eyes fell on largely D's and E's decorating the page, my heart sank. I read, shaken, that, which no parent ever wishes to be confronted with. The report card is the one place where mere alphabets assume the power to hit you in unimaginable ways. In my case, these letters came as a series of unpleasant, unanticipated slaps. So, is this how he spends his three hours in school every day?

The initial surge of emotions tided over, stage two saw me poring over the specifics. That's when my eyes fell on an indicator legend in one corner of the page. To a mind conditioned to believing that the grades can only be assigned randomly among any of the five letters from A to E, a crisp evaluation scheme comprising just four grades of C, D, E, and the incongruous Ex (!) seemed odd.

How the times have changed. And with it, the assessment criteria. When we were at school an idiot-proof numerical marking system clearly showed us where we stood in class. The grades system that gradually phased this out was something that I saw my parents grappling with with my younger siblings. For their minds trained on relying on marks to tell them how their daughter was better than her, her and her, but not quite the same calibre as some other one (the teacher's impartiality was usually suspect in such cases), and from the uncomplicated P (for Pass or Promoted) and F (Failed, what else?), the newly introduced grade-system was insufficient. And unfair.

What was this system where more than half of the class would be slotted in a B or a C, and that a few alphabets decided your ward's performance! How was it possible that their neighbour's child, who they believed was not a patch on theirs, was being placed in the same band as their child? Paradigm shifts in practices will always cause uncertainty among non-believers.

Imagine, then, my bafflement when confronted with a grading system where E doesn't quite mean that you have missed your calling in life, but rather that you are at the key learning stage Emergent, where the basic skills and knowledge are beginning to be demonstrated or observed. Cut the euphemism, and it still pretty much means what an E in the earlier system meant, and that this E is still ranked lower than a D (Key Learning Stage Developing, the basic skills are usually demonstrated). If I have understood this grading system in its most elementary intent, a C is still to be read as being an improvement over D, but not because an alphabetical-sorting command on your desktop would place C above D. C (Consolidating, where basic skills are consistently demonstrated) is where most parents would want to see their children placed in class; my son has one C amidst an orgiastic assault of D's and E's. There are 31 heads under which the students have been assessed. That may put my not-so-premature concern in perspective.

There is one more grade, Ex, which could easily be misinterpreted as Excellent or Exceptional, but is instead, Learning stage Extending. In practice however, parents would be happy mistaking it for either, because, clearly, it is reserved for students who have attained the Nirvana equivalent of their studentship endeavours. I don't see my son gaining enlightenment anytime soon.

But I shouldn't be complaining. As long as my child wakes up bright-eyed for school every morning, I know he's enjoying school. And that is reason enough for any parent to feel happy.

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