Demand for cancelling exams grows as students process grief

  • On April 14, the Centre cancelled the Class 10 exams and postponed the Class 12 tests, and said it will review the situation on June 1 before deciding on the fate of the exams.
Relatives of a Covid-19 victim seen outside the mortuary at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital in New Delhi.(Hindustan Times)
Relatives of a Covid-19 victim seen outside the mortuary at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital in New Delhi.(Hindustan Times)
Updated on May 17, 2021 04:32 AM IST
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ByFareeha Iftikhar, Kainat Sarfaraz, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

A 17-year-old who lost both his parents to Covid-19, another boy whose hospitalised mother does not know her husband has passed away; an 18-year-old who lost her mother two days ago, and a top performer who tested positive for the infection — these are just some of the students expected to write the CBSE Class 12 exams amid the fourth wave of the pandemic in the national capital.

On April 14, the Centre cancelled the Class 10 exams and postponed the Class 12 tests, and said it will review the situation on June 1 before deciding on the fate of the exams. Students and teachers are concerned about the ramifications the exams may have, with just 15 days left for the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to decide on the Class 12 exams. Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ is due to chair a virtual meeting with all state education secretaries to discuss the impact of the pandemic on education.

However, with the country continuing to record over 350,000 new Covid-19 infections and nearly 4,000 deaths every day, stakeholders have questioned the feasibility of conducting exams in-person. Students have started social media campaigns demanding the cancellation of Class 12 exams amid the pandemic. A plea has been also filed in the Supreme Court asking for directions to the Centre, CBSE and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE) to cancel the Class 12 examinations.

Officials at several schools in Delhi said many of their students had seen loss at close quarters, and that it will be challenging for them to take tests in such a situation. For instance, at Amity International School in Saket, a Class 12 student lost both his parents to Covid-19 during the ongoing surge, while another student’s father died, while the mother continues to fight the infection in hospital.

Psychologist Manveen Kaur, the school counsellor, said asking students to appear for exams at this moment will “push them beyond breaking point.”

“We are talking about teenagers here. They need time, focus, and energy to heal. They don’t need to stress about their academics right now. Authorities need to realise that children in the cycle of grief and despair need to get over this uncertainty because prolonged exposure to it will lead to stress and behavioural changes... Children who have lost their parents a week or a month or even five months ago, cannot be expected to write their papers,” said Kaur.

The situation is identical at schools run by the government.

At The Indian School, a Class 12 student of commerce lost his mother to the infection a couple of days ago, officials said. Two siblings enrolled in classes 10 and 12 at Springdales School on Pusa Road also lost their parents to Covid-19 recently. At least two students of Class 12 of MM Public School in Pitampura have lost their fathers to Covid-19.

Ameeta Wattal, principal of Springdales School, said, “Two siblings studying in class 10 and 12 in our school lost their parents to Covid recently. When their relatives from outside Delhi wanted to take the children to a different city, the Class 12 student’s first concern was — what about my boards?... We have to come out with some kind of decision on this soon,” she said.

Several Class 12 students have themselves tested positive for Covid-19. For instance, Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya (RPVV) in Surajmal Vihar had to stop all remedial and preparatory classes later last month when one of their top performers tested positive for the infection. School principal RP Singh said, “We held an online meeting with students and asked them not to worry about their exams and to focus on themselves and their families… The board can conduct exams by addressing the administrative aspects, but the way students and teachers have been hit emotionally in the last month cannot be addressed,” he said.

Jyoti Arora, principal of Mount Abu Public School, said, “Conducting exams is just a part of the process. It will be followed by rigorous evaluation, after which results will be prepared. It will be equally challenging to do that at a time when several teachers have died across schools in Delhi, so many have tested positive, while several have had deaths in their families.”

Several students echoed these views. Aman Sharma (17), a student of Class 12 at Modern School in Vasant Vihar, said at least four of his classmates lost their parents between April and May and the pressure of board exams has left them feeling abandoned. “Exams cannot get preference over the lives and health of students. CBSE should not make us wait till June for clarity and leave us feeling anxious when we all know that there is a possibility of a third wave as well. This is not a conducive environment for us to sit and study when the world around us is collapsing,” he said.

Education experts suggested alternative evaluation methods.

Renu Malaviya, associate professor at the department of education at Lady Irwin College who has been working on alternative assessment methods for students with disabilities, said, “Online assessments could be an option for those with access to the internet and an alternate mode can be developed for those who don’t have digital access. The assessment pattern could be a combination of a variety of objective-type questions, including short answers. The assessments could be continuous and comprehensive. Most higher education institutes are already conducting entrance tests and with Central Universities Common Entrance Test, Class 12 grades will not be the only deciding factor for admission to colleges and universities.”

Educationist Meeta Sengupta said several universities across the world have dropped SATs and school marks as deciding factors for admissions amid the pandemic.

“Colleges in India can also follow other options for admissions this year in case the exams don’t take place. For instance, they can carry out United States-style applications with a history of the last three or four years, marks, awards, special achievements, and a ‘statement of purpose’ (SoP). They can even ask for an essay or journal note instead of the SoP. These can be submitted by post,” she said.

Despite several attempts, CBSE controller of exams Sanyam Bhardwaj did not respond to calls and texts requesting comment. The board in a statement on Saturday said “no decision has been taken regarding the Class 12 exams yet”.

A senior official from the Union education ministry on Sunday said no decision has been taken so far even as the government is “closely monitoring” the situation. Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” will conduct a virtual meeting with all state education secretaries on Monday to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on education. “The matter of CBSE class 12 exams is likely to be discussed there,” the official said.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021