The odds were too heavily stacked against the conduct of the Class XII board examinations by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). Though the number of fresh positive cases has been on a downward trend nationwide over the last few days, the pattern has not been uniform across the country. While some states have reported a fall in the daily count of Covid-19 cases, others have seen a rising trend. Even if the number of fresh cases had been falling across all states, conducting an exam on an all-India scale involving over 23 lakh students was fraught with the risk of reversing the downward trend. Considering that this age group is yet to be brought under the purview of the vaccination drive, it would have been extremely foolhardy, even criminal, to expose such a large number of adolescents to the dangers of contracting the dreaded disease through an offline exam.
Given the state of internet penetration and dependability in the countryside, conducting the exam online was not really a viable option. We have already seen how students living in remote areas have suffered due to poor connectivity in their area when classes were conducted online last year. Keeping the decision on hold for some days more would have put the students and their parents, already under great stress, under further strain and prolonged and accentuated the prevailing atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety. Besides, where is the guarantee that the pandemic would peter off in the coming weeks? We have already paid a heavy price for assuming, erroneously as subsequent events showed, that we had left Corona behind after the first wave. With the possibility of a third wave coming and the nation nowhere near vaccinating its entire population, it would have been naïve – and foolish – in the extreme to bank on the fond hope that the deadly virus would die down on its own in a few days.
In the circumstances, cancelling the Class XII board exams was the only course available to the CBSE. CISCE immediately followed suit. And the Council of Higher Secondary Examination (CHSE) is likely to do the same in Odisha, just as the Board of Secondary Education (BSE) did after the CBSE cancelled the Class X exams in April. While the authorities have been wracking their brains for the last few days over how to assess the students in the event of the Class XII exams not being held, any criteria fixed is bound to leave some students – and their parents – disgruntled.
While the CBSE has said the students will be judged based on ‘well-defined objective criteria’, it is not yet clear what those criteria would be. Judging by the initial reactions after the announcement about the cancellation of the CBSE Class XII exams, many students would feel cheated irrespective of the criteria. The additional problem for CHSE, Odisha is that while it can emulate the CBSE by cancelling the Class XII exams, it cannot follow the criteria decided on by the two central boards. Unlike the CBSE or ICSE, CHSE does not have a robust internal assessment system, based on which Class XII students can be awarded marks. Since Class XI exams have not been conducted, the only way the students can be assessed is on the basis of their Class X results which, it goes without saying, will be grossly unfair to the students, especially since marks in Class XII determine admission to Plus Three courses. Students are justified in feeling aggrieved that the hard work they have put in would go waste if no exam is conducted.
But then, what is the way out? Irrespective of the criteria adopted, students – and their parents - would certainly feel hard done by. One possible saving grace is that those dissatisfied with the assessment criteria adopted will have the option of appearing in an offline exam whenever the situation permits. But given the fact that Class XII students take the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for admission in engineering courses in elite institutions like IITs and NITs, those who choose to wait for the offline exam could well miss the bus.
In sum, it’s a choice between the devil and the deep sea. On the one hand, going ahead with the Class XII exams in the prevailing situation would have been suicidal. On the other, any system devised to assess the students in the absence of a regular exam, is certain to leave many students disgruntled. But the pandemic has left us with little option but to try and make the best of this ‘lose-lose’ situation.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)
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