Prime Minister Narendra Modi will chair an important meeting regarding Class 12 Board Examinations, this evening. He will be briefed on all possible options, as a result of the extensive discussions with all states and other stakeholders: GoI Sources
Following the news of Education Minister, Pokhriyal, being admitted to AIIMS following post-covid complications and CBSE sources saying that decision on holding or not holding class 12 board exams will be conveyed in the Supreme Court, the anxiety among an estimated 1.2 million students and their parents aggravated further. Now with the agencies reporting that Prime Minister will take the meeting on this today itself signals the government is close to taking a final call on the vexing issue.
Former J& K Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah had summed up the issue rather well. “These 12th board exams are the cause of enough tension for students without the cruel & unusual punishment of uncertainty thrown in to the mix. Have a heart & take a decision so that one way or the other kids know what to expect. Please get your act together CBSE & Edu ministry,” he tweeted this morning.
Missing government is seen at heart of this whole issue. According to educationists if the academic year 2020-21 at least end of 2020 was online, what were the boards and ministry doing. There should had been an alternative strategy for evaluation at place last year itself.
“It is surprising that CBSE or even the ministry of education didn’t formulate an alternative assessment and evaluation strategy despite the fact that till end of last year all schools were closed. It doesn’t have it even now,” says Vividh Gupta, director of Bal Bharti Public School, Mayur Vihar (Delhi).
The new mutant variants of Coronavirus seen largely responsible for the deadly second wave of covid pandemic in India and the exploding deluge of cases from March to May that claimed more lives than in the entire year of 2020, also jeopardized dream of writing board exams for more than 1.40 million class 12 students in the country. This examination for a majority of (class XII) students graduating from schools is the first major milestone of their life—the pick and purpose decider for future undergraduate course of higher education and therefore careers.
Clearly there are two opposing views on this. One section of opinion is not for holding this examination this year in view of unpredictability of the virus and exam centres turning into super spreaders. And, with second wave crushing the theory that young can withstand the infection, the vulnerability of student teens is seen as not a risk worth taking. With the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) now categorizing SARS-CoV-2 transmission as inhalation of virus (very fine respiratory droplets and aerosol particles) and risk of transmission is greatest within three to six feet but can infect people beyond this range indoors, this opinion is soundings scientific . The inadequate healthcare system like it collapsed in the second wave, bears no guarantee that it will be better for a possible third wave.
Two, the torment and mental health issues is another factor in support of not holding exams. Around 577 children have been orphaned by this pandemic officially and with over 3.3 lakh deaths more than half of them during the past two months, leaves as many families in grief and chaos. The active caseload is still vast and situation is not conducive for conducting examinations. A plea has already been filed in the Supreme Court for cancellation of the exams. “We cannot expose millions of students. Exams can never supersede the lives of students. We need to expedite the process now and once conditions are conducive exams can be held for whosoever wants to appear,” reasoned Mamta Sharma, Supreme Court advocate & petitioner for cancellation of exams. The Government told the apex court in the 31st May hearing that by June 3, a decision would be taken and conveyed to court.
The second opinion is for holding the sanctity of the exams and holding them after taking due precautions and ensuring appropriate protocols. Those supporting this view have been citing the successful conduct NEET and other competitive exams last September alongside holding of remaining question papers of boards. For them values of resilience, fortitude should guide the youth in adversity.
Caught between these two views, union ministry of Education, has been under intense pressure and as a result of this, it held meetings with states first at secretary level and then on May 23 a group of central ministers led by Raj Nath Singh, defence minister held discussions with states on the issue. It emerged that out of 28 states and 8 UTs, 32 are in favor of holding exams. One of the major suggestions that came from a few states is the vaccination of students to guard them against a possible infection. Several states have already collected data on the number of eligible students (18+) for vaccination.
Leading the narrative on first vaccination of students, then exams, Delhi’s education minister, Manish Sisodia in a series of media interviews and through a letter to union MoE clearly advocated this approach. “Let children be vaccinated and then give exams. We can’t play with the lives of children to conduct exams. There are 1 crore 40 lakh students in Class 12 all over India who will appear for board exams. Experts in India be spoken to and asked if the above-18 vaccines can be given to those of 17.5 years of age as this will cover 90% of the Class 12 students. Talk to Pfizer and acquire vaccinations for 12 and above. Pfizer vaccine has been approved for kids and is being used in several countries including the United States,” he said.
While national boards in particular the CBSE also serves as the model for state boards, another issue that is being debated is the examination format and centres. CBSE apart from the existing format has also suggested a truncated format. Under this, which will take only 45 days (could be held tentatively in two phases — July 15 to August 1 and August 5 to August 26 — and results could be announced by September 5), the CBSE has proposed that Class 12 students sit for the major subject exams in their own schools. Each examination should be of one-and-a half hours instead of three hours. The question papers should have only objective and short-answer questions. In this scenario, a Class 12 student will appear for one language and three elective (read major) subjects only. The marks for the fifth and sixth subjects will be decided based on the performance in the elective subjects. Thousands of students who have applied to foreign universities will also need to show the qualification by September this year.