Board Examinations 2021 to be the new superspreaders? The UNESCO report on Education in a Post-COVID World: Nine Ideas for Public Action categorically states that it is evident that we cannot return to the world as it was before. Yet, more than a year after the deadly pandemic struck and continues to ravage parts of the world, our government is determined, rather obstinately, to return to the old way of holding examinations as the only way of assessing students.
At a time when the triple mutant variant of the coronavirus is causing considerable concern not just in India where it originated but across the world, the Indian government’s pussyfooting around the issue of board exams is giving students and parents like me, sleepless nights. With 26 million COVID-19 cases - second only to the United States, India has transformed into the new epidemic hotspot. The deadly second wave has overwhelmed our healthcare infrastructure, leaving hospitals struggling and drugs and oxygen in short supply. The last few weeks have seen hundreds of people taking to social media platforms to desperately seek help with oxygen supplies, hospital beds and medicines. As several states went into lockdown yet again, infections showed signs of slowing down.
According to the latest figures, cases have dipped below 200,000 for the first time since 14 April. In my opinion, this is not reason enough to be cheerful. If we go by previous instances, the minute Delhi and other states start opening up, infections will rise. To force students to write examinations at a time like this is like sending them to their deaths. The second wave affected the young and old alike. I can’t even begin to imagine the horrors the third wave will unleash on us. The vaccination programme is incomplete - it is a nightmare to get slots on the Cowin website and from what I understand, vaccines are in short supply. Without students, invigilators and other administrative staff vaccinated, how on earth are the different boards proposing to hold examinations without the possibility of large-scale infections breaking out?
Are board examinations going to become the new superspreader events of the pandemic?
Several countries have cancelled the end-of-school exams in view of the spikes. GCSE and A-level exams have been cancelled in the UK and students will have their grades decided by the teachers. France has also announced that final exams, the baccalauréat, will be scrapped and replaced with continuous assessment and coursework. In the Netherlands, schools and universities have moved entirely to distance learning with exceptions being made for vulnerable students and those in some sort of vocational training.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) has announced that the board will not conduct examinations in India for its May 2021 assessments due to the ongoing COVID surge in the country. Why is it so hard for CBSE, CISCE and the state boards to do the same?
Most schools in India transitioned to the online mode of learning over the last year remarkably well with minor glitches. Teachers turned tech-savvy and adjusted to an unfamiliar medium of instruction. Schools held classes and examinations online. While students in rural and underserved communities have not benefited from the shift to online, surely the government can come up with an alternate system for assessing vulnerable and rural students? We have had over a year to prepare, why are the systems not in place by now?
Why are we still looking at examinations as a one-size-fits-all approach? Specially since the pathbreaking New Education Policy 2020 advocates a flexibility of approach to build talent for the future, instead of destroying the future of talent.
As I write this, the Supreme Court of India has adjourned the case seeking cancellation of Class 12 Board Exams 2021 till Monday May 31. Please be optimistic, the bench has allegedly told the counsel. To be optimistic in the face of such dilly-dallying and callousness with lives of students at large is a cavalier approach at best.
Image Credit: Hindustan Times
Debeshi Guptoo is a former-journalist turned author, who is currently based in Gurgaon. Her books are Gurgaon Diaries, Dragon Aunty Returns and Mr Eashwar’s Daughter. The views expressed are the author's own.