The Educational Testing Service under
(which conducts college- and university level entrance tests like SAT and GRE worldwide) has long believed that asking candidates to write an essay is one of the best ways of judging overall mental ability (vocabulary, grasp of idiom, GK, logical thinking, structured expression, power of persuasion… so many things can be assessed simultaneously). So does the Union Public Service Commission in Princeton University (which conducts the entrance tests for the civil services, including the IAS). And so schools still give pupils practice in essay writing, and so do I. India
Over a long tenure of teaching, one thing I have noticed is a very sharp drop in the quality of essays that schoolgoers write. I have documentary proof of this, because I have kept some of the best and worst essays written by boys in one of the best-known ‘English-medium’ schools in my town since the 1970s.
Below is a sample of the worst kind. It was written as homework by a boy in class ten a few years ago.
What does the word ‘raging’ means. Its a practical joke played upon somebody. It means micking and jocking. The word ‘ragging’ is a word of panic to every fresher in medical and enginnering colleges. The custom of ragging is much old but the custom of hurting, injuring someone is a new one.
Ragging is mainly done by seniors on juniors. Its like showing powers of a senior over juniors. When these torchered juniors become seniors they take the same policy. Most of the ragings do not hurt. But as sometimes risky ragging are also done. It some times affects the body of the person who is torchered, sometimes it causes injuring, even sometimes death. These types of happening are growing day by day. These types of happenings occurs due to personal grudge on somebody.
To students the word ragging is controvertial. Accroding to seniors ragging is a good practice and according to juniors ragging is a evil practice. One boy in enginnering college had to walk on railing, one had to smoke continuously for two hours. These some times affects the body and causes death too.
Government have taken initiatives to stop ragging in large scale. Much of it is stopped but some still remain which we come to know from the daily. To me Ragging should stay to such a limit that there exists a brother hood relation among seniors and juniors. There should not exist an evil practice.
The prescribed length of the essay was 350 to 400 words, to be written in 35 minutes. The boy wrote only 239 words, and took nearly an hour to do it. As any literate adult reader can notice, not only is the grasp of language pathetic, but the work is too short, shot through with repetition, self-contradiction and confusion, and basically lacking in content: he knew virtually nothing about the subject, and could hardly think of anything to say.
I keep copies of such work, and read them out to successive classes to correct, comment and mark (because I have found that it is educational: people are far more keen when they are asked to find fault with others’ work than to notice their own). They laugh heartily at first, but it dies down to uneasy titters when I first tell them that most of them write no better than this after eleven years of high-class schooling, and then inform them that this boy, too, has grown up to be an engineer and MBA…