What we got as a result is millions of robots who could just spew out tables up to 100, kids who answered quiz questions remembering completely irrelevant data and statistics like the exact date when Mt. Everest was scaled the first time, or the exact weight of a polar bear. This rote learning has even helped Indian kids living in United States win Spelling Bee contests. And all through our school and college life, we revered and celebrated these memory machines. What India was producing was all memory and no CPU.
The Indian context is so complex, so multi-dimensional, that trying to understand its depth merely through a numbered tale is not just silly, but detrimental to our ability to work on fixing what's wrong.
However, the kind of knowledge and skills required to function as members of society has to depend on the context, that is, change from one place (or society) to another. To what extent can we obtain a holistic idea about the socio-economic backgrounds of students in surveys that take students and principals a mere "20-30 minutes to complete"?
I looked into some sample questions from the 2009 test, and a couple of examples make my point clear. One question revolves around dealing with the receipt of a warranty card for a camera (named Rolly Fotonex 250 Zoom) and a tripod. Now, in any statewide testing in India we are going to end up with a very large group of students who would have either never bought a camera themselves (especially by 15 years of age) or had their parents buy it for them. The idea of a "warranty" itself may be encountered for the first time in the test, disadvantaging such students. Another example I noted was a question in which students were asked to describe a particular story, labeling it a "folk tale," "travel story," or a "historical account." These are subjective labels, depending on different historical understanding of narrative categorizations or conventions. Another question posed questions about a library schedule of hours. Again, a vast majority of Indian students may never have encountered an institutionalized library of that sort.