Question Answers

Question Answers

Walking around the neighbourhood, I heard a boy and girl talking. Both were in 4th standard, one in a government school and one in a private school.

"Everything they are teaching me in school … I have already learned beyond," the boy commented.

My ears perked up. I caught up with them and casually inserted myself in their conversation. "How did you learn it already?" I inquired.

"Reading!" he said.

"Reading what?" I asked.

He named Magic Tree House, and some other titles.

He continued, "All our teachers have changed this term. Our new teacher for social studies is so slow. We have finished only 4 lessons. There are 8 in all."

The girl had a similar story with certain subjects in her school that were progressing too slowly for her liking as well. Both of these kids are bright and studious, with parents very much involved in their education.

"But you can always read ahead if you want," I countered.

"No but the question answers!" they both said at once.

"Question answers?" I asked, puzzled.

The long and short of it is that for each chapter or lesson in a given subject, the teacher assigns some questions. Apparently, they also give out the answers. Even if the kids read ahead to the later lessons, in order to prepare for the exam, they must wait for the "Question Answers."

From where do the teachers get these answers? I asked

"She will look at last year’s papers, from someone who wrote a good answer and tell us all to write that. For example, if the question is, ‘what happened to the boy?’ We will have to write ‘the boy fractured his leg.’" A sing-song tone automatically came into their voice when they recited the answer.

"What if you write something else that happened to the boy?" I asked "Or might have happened?" I wondered – something I could well imagine my daughter writing.

"No we have to write the answer they give us."

So their answers would all be the same? Word for word? Or could they write it in their own words?

"Only for some answers we can write in our own words. The rest of them have to be in the same words." they replied.

Isn’t this what those students at Harvard got sacked for? "[O]n final-exam questions, some students supplied identical answers …" (The Hindu, 2 February 2013)

However what is different here is that writing identical answers on the exam is not considered cheating, it is in fact what the students are instructed to do. The better they can do it, the higher will be their grade and thus the higher the ranking of the school itself. Who benefits from this?

These children in my neighbourhood have opportunities to learn outside of school. The flaws of the school may have frustrated them at times but on the whole they did not seem to mind and even found them amusing. They had learned how to work the system, much as I had when I was a student. Though no teacher ever dictated word-for-word answers, we often had multiple choice questions, which still amounted to identical answers expected from all students.

We learned how to work the system and we learned to be happy about that. We learned not to ask for more and to save our curiosity till after school. What we did not have was a place to be curious together and in the open, or even know that we were not alone. We knew about what we did from 7:30 – 2:30, and we knew about all the homework we did afterwards … these were all the things we had in common. What in retrospect seems obvious now, is that we must have all indulged in wandering thoughts. After class and even during class …

In school, we had to answer questions. To question answers we slipped into our own worlds of beckoning possibilities, where nothing was dumb or embarrassing or took up valuable time of other students or risked offending authorities. There normal force, set, commutative property – these had to answer to us. What on earth are you and if you are so obvious why are you in our textbook? Clearly there is more than meets the eye … only no one would tell us about it or even admit it – it is so easy, the impatient silence seemed to insist whenever I even began to raise a doubt about these concepts in the classroom, get on with it!


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