A question paper is a cogent tool for evaluation. It ensures whether an educational system is helping to meet its own objectives.
It seems a question paper has a godlike power. Anything that is justifiable to the objectives of learning can be asked by a question paper. In the process, does it need to be sensitive to what the students are likely to learn, what the students are likely to consider as easy or complex? Does it need to be sensitive to the ways teachers teach the students? Does it need to think about the content matter teachers likely to stress during teaching? Should it be cautious not to ask the things the teachers are not likely to stress while teaching? Before appearing in the examination hall, need it to consider making an impression as easy paper, difficult paper, not so easy, not so difficult, perfect....?

If the question paper thinks, "teachers are following text-book oriented teaching. Then I must not trespass its boundaries. I must stick to the patterns of questions textbook owns", what is the scope of measuring students’ thinking skills, conceptual understanding, ability to apply concepts in different situations, ability to carry over the knowledge to similar but different situations?. Asking from a set of predetermined questions belies the very purpose of a question paper intended to measure skills beyond rote learning and memorizing.
We Keralites dream about raising the standard of education to the international level. This will be impossible without students mastering the above-mentioned skills. In the coming future nobody is going o pay much attention to the marks students scores in the board exams. The job market is after the students who excel in the ability to apply what they learned. What they need is not mere knowledge or information but excellent practical strategies to weave the information into the unique fabric of different work settings. The certificate is only a proof that the student has attended the course. It does not always ensure that his very personality carries necessary creative impulse for applying what he has learned to the situational demands. For example, a student who possesses a master’s degree in literature with good grades need not promise effective communication skills.


Mathematics question paper of higher secondary board exam of Kerala state was not easy. Almost all teachers declared it openly through social media.  Some even submitted a memorandum to the concerned authorities asking not to repeat the same mistake. Of course, they justified their stance by precisely stating mathematically, logically reasons.
But what is the ground reality?
At a particular point in time, a mathematics teacher is free to choose the aspect of teaching she wants to focus. Roughly speaking, she has three choices.
·         Facilitate conceptual understanding in mathematics
·         Facilitate procedural skills and fluency (problem-solving)
·         Facilitate application skills
It is true that all teachers attend to these three aspects of teaching but all the three are not grabbing an equal amount of attention from the teachers. Textbook oriented teaching, which most teachers follow, tailors the teaching methods in such a way to enhance procedural skills in problem-solving. Conceptual understanding is treated only as a means or as an aide to solve a set of pre-determined, textual, repetitive pattern of problems. Those aspects of concepts which fit into selected problem-solving purposes are emphasized depriving learning minds of a complete appreciation of various mathematical concepts. Sometimes conceptual phase of teaching is restricted to teaching formulas, mostly by rote repetition.
For instance, teachers think, (need not exclude me) “what is the point of going deeper into the concept of an ellipse, parabola, hyperbola when a set of readymade formulae can meet the kind of questions text-books put forward”. When the question paper also promises not to violate this boundary of problems, the teacher is convinced of the effectiveness of her short cut methods for teaching concepts.
When a question paper asks something that requires integration of two or more concepts say that of ellipse and circle the vulnerability of dead formulas crammed into the memory of a student is exposed. Teacher and student together declare the paper is beyond the expected level. Yes it is true. But who asked the teachers to conduct teaching from their personal expectations? Teachers are never expected to set boundaries for knowledge or make it rigid, distinct, dead pieces and perpetuate the habit into teaching community.
When a question paper demands the skill of integrating two more concepts, or the ability to delve into the concept from different angles (other than formula applications) from students its quite natural that we teachers who have followed text-book oriented teaching label the question paper as difficult. Our justification is, it is difficult for an average student to “apply” the concept he learned. With this in mind, we set apart application level questions for bright students. That means more than 50% of students are labeled as not capable of applying what they learned. Its an ignominy to the entire educational system. 
Without appreciating the beauty behind each mathematical concept how can a student fall in love with maths? How the element of excitement in problem-solving can be experienced by the students?
Moreover, what does it mean by problem-solving skill?. The so-called problem-solving skill is not the ability to solve the same pattern of problems again and again.  In reality, the skill to solve math problem includes the ability to carry over the strategies learned for solving a set of familiar problems to an unfamiliar terrain of problems which are slightly different from the familiar ones in many aspects. The only thing that empowers the student to confront problems that are familiar as well as not-so-familiar with equanimity is his in-depth conceptual understanding.
If the question papers of Kerala educational system allow enough space for evaluating students' ability to think out of textbooks our educational system for sure will be cured of its stagnancy. It will soar far high up to the levels that we dream of.


It seems only a question paper can trespass the boundaries of a textbook and prompt the teachers to come out of their fixed ineffective ways of teaching. The examination oriented teaching is pathologically ingrained into the mindsets of teaching community of Kerala state that no amount of awareness programmes or in-service courses can be helpful in transforming them in accordance with social-educational demands of the new millennium.
Question papers can create a classroom climate where there will be enough space to take the learning minds through the skills the world expect from the student population. A question paper has that power to replace rote learning by creative, active learning. It can refashion students as seekers and constructors of knowledge rather than passive receptors. Passive listening must give way to active questioning in the learning atmosphere.  Question papers can elicit this culture inside the classroom. In gist, it has the power to revolutionalize the entire classroom teaching. Year after year it can confirm the objectives which the classrooms of the new millennium are expected to accomplish. It is a powerful tool for making the possibilities into reality little by little.
Hey question paper, never be intimidated by the altercations and cries from teachers to come back and settle down into your old ineffective ways. Our students must grow. What we need is not an illusion of growth. We want to make it a reality.  
Dr. Jeny Rapheal
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