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| Updated on June 02, 2021

With the pandemic still raging, there was little choice but to cancel the Class 12 exams this year

The Centre’s decision to cancel the Class 12 exams this year should be seen as the right step at a time when the pandemic is still officially recording about a lakh and a half cases daily. The Prime Minister has rightly said that the health and safety of about 1.2 million students cannot be compromised. Even if the second wave is past its peak, it is simply not worth risking another spike in infections for the sake of an all-India examination. It would have made little sense to expose students to the virus and add to their exam stress with Covid protocols. For the exams to be held, the daily case numbers should come down to a fifth or a sixth of current levels with a far greater proportion of the population being vaccinated. This is not foreseeable in the near future. Besides, holding exams across thousands of centres with Covid protocols at a time when the government machinery is already stretched to its limits is just not feasible. Large-scale online exams are not an option in a country where the digital divide is pervasive. Fears that higher education admissions will be thrown out of gear seem overblown, as universities and colleges can devise their own forms of assessment, such as entrance exams and interviews — while assigning less importance to the Class 12 marksheet this time, which will be based on internal assessment and other metrics.

Those who argue in favour of holding a physical exam, however, have a few valid points to make. They are right in saying that Class 12 marks based on internal evaluations can be marked by bias, or they may not reflect true ability in a year of online instruction and exams — which are poor substitutes for the real school experience. However, the boards have offered the option of sitting for a physical exam at a later date. At present, students cannot be expected to do justice to the exams in a tense frame of mind — fearing for their safety and the well being of their families. They have already endured a year of anxiety, undermining their focus on academics. Many have lost their near and dear ones. Their preparations will come in handy for the entrance exams that universities will hold later this year. For the growing numbers writing competitive exams, Class 12 has ceased to be a make-or-break exam, anyway.

This crisis presents a huge opportunity for reform in higher education. A ‘cut-off’ for selection should be a necessary, but not sufficient condition. The impossibly high ‘cut-offs’ that some institutions set have in turn turned higher secondary exams into lotteries imposing tremendous stress on students. ‘Cut-offs’ should be set at a reasonable level, following which an entrance exam and viva can be conducted. By devising their own admission systems, colleges will be compelled to define at least for themselves what sort of students they want and what focus they wish to impart for a course. This can improve the ‘fit’ between courses, faculty and students. Let us hope the Covid catastrophe triggers a shake-up.

Published on June 02, 2021

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