KOLKATA: If board exams were an Olympic sport, this could well be its Nadia Comaneci moment. Board marks, dizzyingly upwardly mobile for the past several years, finally hit the ceiling when two students — one from Kolkata and the other from Bengaluru — got 100% (400 in four subjects) in this year’s ISC examination, the results of which were declared on Tuesday.
While Dewang Kumar Agarwal from La Martiniere for Boys, Kolkata, got the as-yet-impossible marks from the science stream, Vibha Swaminathan from Mallya Aditi International School managed it in the humanities.
This means Dewang and Vibha received full marks in four subjects, including English. Just four days ago, two all-India CBSE Class XII toppers missed the perfect score by one mark, scoring 499.
The feat is comparable to Comăneci’s ground-breaking performance at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, in which the Romanian gymnast managed to get the so-far-thought unattainable score of 10.0, changing the sport forever.
“This is the first time in the history of the exam that a candidate has got a perfect score,” said Gerry Arathoon, chief executive and secretary, Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE).
Dewang’s performance was no aberration, going by trends. Students from Bengal have done exceedingly well this year, with 20 from the state securing the top three ranks. While Dewang is the only one from Kolkata to be ranked first, four students from the city and the suburbs have ranked second, and 15 from the state have ranked third.
In fact, the stellar performance has exceeded even the expectations of even teachers.
“Though Bengal has churned out toppers since 2015, this year’s results are truly extraordinary, with 20 students from the state in the top three slots,” said a beaming Fr Bikash Mondal, the principal of Don Bosco School, Park Circus, which has a top-10 rank-holder.
In Bengal, 24,791 students appeared at the ISC exam from 262 schools. Of them, almost 97% passed, with girls outperforming boys. Of the 20 students from Bengal who occupied the top three ranks, 11 are girls. What is also heartening is that the top 20 students hailed from 13 different schools.
While there is much to cheer overall, it is Dewang’s performance that proved the icing on the cake. La Martiniere for Boys principal John Rafi had unstinting praise for his star student. “Dewang’s concepts are very clear. He is thorough with his textbooks, and he is extremely focused. Actually, there were three boys on whom we had pinned our hopes of securing a top spot. Dewang’s focus appears to have given him the edge,” he said.
Though Rafi clearly expected great things of Dewang, the boy himself was dizzy with happiness when TOI caught up with him on Tuesday evening. A firm believer in analysing one’s performance after each exam, he appeared to be at a loss for words. “The achievement is yet to sink in,” he finally said. “I didn’t stress much. I tried to focus on subjects or areas in which I had scored less in-class exams.”
The aspiring computer engineer has taken his JEE Mains and has qualified to take JEE (Advanced). “I’m keeping all my options open and haven’t predetermined which institute I would like to go to if I crack the entrance test,” he said.
At the Plus-II exam, Dewang’s combination was English, Hindi, mathematics, physics, chemistry and computer science. “I’ve secured 100 each in English, physics, chemistry and computer science. I haven’t managed that in mathematics and Hindi but I did my best,” he said. His maths score is 99, while it’s 86 in Hindi.
Several education experts, however, see the ultra-high scores in recent years as an extremely worrying trend. Krishna Kumar, former NCERT director, feels the problem lies in faulty question patterns, model answers set and evaluation. He said in the upward march of the marks in board exams, the nation was putting a premium on rote learning instead of the originality of thought and creativity.
“The trend of scoring 100 has nothing to do with the state education boards inflating marks. The problem is with the way questions are set and the model answers developed for it. These model answers are such where students can completely reproduce the answers to get full marks. The slightly original and creative ones lose in the process. As the good old saying goes, it is the victory of the crammers,” Kumar said.
The principal of a Kolkata school, too, saw a flip side to the trend. “This kind of score will put other students who are academically less brilliant under tremendous pressure,” she said. Another felt it would lead to greater expectations from bright students, with both parents and teachers expecting them to emulate this year’s results. “A Nadia Comăneci score is a rarity. Unless one accepts that, it will only lead to disappointment in future,” he warned.
Former CBSE chairman Ashok Ganguly said the zooming marks were a threat to the credibility of our education system. “This inflation of marks is very disturbing. We need to rethink the assessment of our students so that there is reliability, validity and credibility in our system. Earlier, this trend was seen in some state boards. Now, all are competing to inflate the marks,” he said.
The full marks secured by ISC candidates have left state board students wary and confused. “West Bengal Higher Secondary Council, traditionally, does not award students with too many marks. What will happen to us?” wondered a Bengal state board candidate who is anxiously awaiting his results. Some school principals said the ISC results could even encourage colleges in the state to unofficially draw up separate merit lists for different boards.