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Students face uncertain future amid pandemic

Students face uncertain future amid pandemic
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Vijay GarG
Earlier this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the cancellation of key school-leaving examinations. The examinations – popularly called boards – are crucial for students hoping to secure admission in some of India’s most prestigious public universities.
The cancellation came as a huge relief to many who were anxious about writing exams at a time when Indian towns and cities were gripped by a deadly second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. Though cheerful in the beginning but soon started asking questions about the future and what would happen.
Somewhat bitter-sweet moment students found out that they wouldn’t have to write the tests under such pressure but it also opened up a whole world of uncertainty.
For the most part, the education system in India is geared towards this one big board exam that Class 12 students have to take. It marks the culmination of their school life and forms the basis for all their future studies.
The cancellation of these tests, students say, complicates matters.
We don’t know how we are going to be evaluated, how colleges and universities would accept our admission applications, these questions haunt students as of now.
In their cancellation order of 1 June, authorities said that students would be marked according to a “well-defined, objective criteria” which would be announced later.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the government-controlled board that conducts these examinations, said experts would look at all angles and decide how students would be evaluated.
Some educationists feel that students could be marked on the basis of their performance in previously-held examinations such as pre-boards – internal school tests conducted before the final boards. But students say that this is rife with issues.
The student’s community believes that it is unfair as they write the pre-boards to assess themselves. These are essentially to prepare for the boards. They’re not the real thing.
Writing the pre-boards during the pandemic meant that many were sick or dealing with losses, while some just lost momentum after the tests were postponed the first time and, as a result, many didn’t perform well.
For most students, Zoom classes became the norm as the pandemic forced schools to shut. Teachers also say that asking the schools to mark their own students could lead to all sorts of issues.
An external exam removes bias as everyone writes the same exam and is graded by a neutral party, whereas schools might be “emotionally invested in their own students” and “instead of giving a student three on five an evaluator might give them four on five.
Some schools might also take this opportunity to push up the average grades of students to improve the school’s ranking. Also the students appear unhappy with the arrangement. What happens if a student is not happy with the marks assigned to him?
The CBSE announced that students would be allowed to write an examination if they were not satisfied with their evaluations. But that could delay admission process and and students won’t wish to waste a whole year.
Schools were shut in March last year when Covid-19 cases first started emerging in India. With classes moving to online mode students spent the year at home, logging into Zoom to study and keeping in touch with classmates.
It’s been a lost year for the students. They have stayed home for most of this academic year and cancellations of major board exams has put forward many challenges that are hard to tackle.
(The author is a Retired Principal based at Malout Punjab)

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