Testing times

| Updated on April 14, 2021

The authorities must work towards conducting the exams with all safety protocols in June-July   -  The Hindu

Class 12 exam has been rightly postponed. But digital divide in education is a concern

Responding to the pleas of lakhs of anxious students and their harried parents amidst a raging pandemic, the Centre has decided to postpone the Class 12 exams and cancelled the Class 10 exam. They were scheduled to be held through the next month. Though the decision looks like an open-and-shut case, it obviously was trickier than that. By pushing the decision on holding Class 12 exams to June 1, the powers that be have only postponed the moment of reckoning in the hope that the pandemic situation will ease by then. But the difficult question is: what if it doesn’t? There is a view that the Centre could have cancelled the Class 12 exam straightaway sparing students the uncertainty and allowing them to focus on the competitive entrance exams which decide entry to professional courses and to elite arts and science colleges. Internal assessment through the year can be used to grade the Class 12 students. The problem with this argument is that it assumes that all students have equal digital access and could participate in classes through the last academic year. This is far from the reality — digital divide in education is a stark reality and those on the wrong side of this divide would be clearly disadvantaged.

Epidemiologists have suggested that the pandemic will peak in May. With some mobility curbs in place and vaccinations hopefully crossing a critical threshold, a dip in Covid cases seems a distinct possibility by the end of May. Public health experts have pointed out that the second wave in the rest of the world peaked and subsided more rapidly than the first. Hence, the administration should work towards orderly conduct of the examinations in June-July. A staggered academic calendar is the norm the world over now. Unlike last year, it is important that the exams are actually held this time, with students getting a good opportunity to perform to the best of their potential. They have had a disruptive year, dominated by online classes which discriminate against the digital have-nots, besides being no substitute for the physical classroom. They are distraught and disoriented after a year of isolation and familial and social anxiety. The pre-boards, held in stressful circumstances this year, should not be considered for evaluation. If indeed the board exams cannot be held in full, the average of the papers held should be used to determine the marks of those for which students are unable to appear — a formula adopted last year.

The pandemic has been an education in itself. It has tested the physical and temperamental limits of young and old, alike. The education system must build counselling and crisis management into its pedagogy in the coming years. This includes responsible behaviour at all levels. The mainstreaming of online instruction will have to be accompanied by serious efforts to breach the digital divide. This will have to be a public-private partnership. Education and digital inclusion are two sides of the same coin now.

Published on April 14, 2021

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