The Central Board of Secondary Education has proposed to hold offline examinations in July, but students and teachers, fearing Covid spread, are demanding virtual tests
Rahul Srinivas (name changed on request), like most 17-year-olds in the country, has been glued to his phone for the past few days, scrolling through social media platforms. He tweets and re-tweets messages with trending hashtags, like ‘#cancelboardexams’ and ‘#cancelexamssavestudents’, or ‘likes’ Instagram memes that poke fun at the CBSE’s decision to hold offline examinations for Class 12 students in July amid a raging pandemic. “The government must cancel exams or hold them online because students are likely to get infected in examination halls,” says Srinivas, a Pune-based CBSE student and an aspiring mechanical engineer.
Across the country, students are divided on whether the CBSE should go ahead with its May 24 proposal of conducting examinations offline. An estimated 14 lakh students are currently preparing for their annual Board exams scheduled to be held between July 15 and August 26 2021. Results are to be declared in September. The Board is also mulling a shift to a multiple-choice format with a reduced duration for every exam. A final announcement is awaited, but a fierce debate on the pros and cons of offline exams among the student and teacher community rages on. Boards besides CBSE are yet to take a decision on the matter.
The Union government had invited states and Union territories to submit their suggestions on the matter by May 25. Most states have supported the CBSE’s decision to hold offline exams, but some, including Delhi, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, have opposed it. The Kerala government has said that exams should be held but also suggested vaccinating all students and teachers beforehand.
Many students and teachers want online examinations to prevent the possibility of an infection, especially since various schools have reported cases of Covid after opening for in-class practical sessions. “As of now, it is not possible to vaccinate those below 18 years of age, so we may end up creating conditions for the virus to grow,” says Deepak Kumar, 17, a student of Saraswati Vidya Mandir, in Bihar’s West Champaran district. His concerns are valid. Parth Kishan, 17, of Delhi’s Don Bosco School, is among those whose batchmates and teachers tested positive for Covid after the school opened for practical sessions for Class 12 students. “This was despite the school taking stringent measures,” says Kishan.
There are also apprehensions about the multiple-choice format since students are not accustomed to it. “We have attended online classes throughout the year. It’s very different from offline classes as we are less focused due to increased screen time and there is no personal attention. We have also given online exams throughout so it’s unfair to have us take our final tests offline. The new pattern becomes tougher for us to adapt to as we have studied following the old pattern,” adds Kishan.
he delayed examination dates and the subsequent delay in announcing results, too, is worrisome for students since it will likely cause delays in admissions for higher studies, especially for those who want to apply to international universities. Students argue that several universities hold their own entrance exams for admissions or base it on JEE and NEET scores, among other parameters, bringing down the importance of the Board exam results. With several of these entrance exams being held online, students are already preparing for admissions to colleges. If the Board exams are held offline, it could mean a delay in new admissions and a late start to the next academic year. “The real challenge is that the non-clarity has led to anxiety. And lack of transparency has created problems in decision-making regarding the future,” says Adarsh Khandelwal, founder of Collegify, a bespoke education services company that offers consultation on studying abroad. He says that application for a visa requires the final mark sheet as a mandatory document.
Health experts caution against bringing students to examination halls. “Most of these children are below the age of 18 and the entire vaccination process takes up to 13 weeks, so it is not possible to vaccinate these students before they go out,” says Manish Vyas, a Mumbai-based general physician. Several students, he says, could experience mental trauma or anxiety if forced to step out of their homes.
A teacher at a CBSE school in Mumbai, however, believes online examinations could lead to malpractices. She recommends marking students on the basis of the various tests they have taken and assignments they have submitted in the past year.
Not all students are averse to the idea of offline exams. Shreyanshu Raj, 17, a student of Class 12 of Holy Mission School, Patna is keen to take the exams. “Any further delay will be even more detrimental to our academic career. There is surely some risk of infection, but, in the long run, holding examinations now will prove to be the right decision. Every invigilator should get vaccinated and the seating arrangement should ensure social distancing,” he says. Dhruv Godara, a commerce student at Seedling Public School, Jaipur, feels that the offline exam should be optional. “Those who are vaccinated, in the right frame of mind and health and willing to take a formal offline exam should be given this option. Otherwise, let marks be given on the basis of internal assessment,” he says, adding that there have been no pre-board examinations held in his school.