The General Secretary of the opposition party, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, has written a letter to the Education Minister of India, on the subject of board exams 2021. To hold or not to hold the year end exams in CBSE, ICSE and other state boards has been a matter of much debate in the past few weeks, with the topic now under discussion in the supreme court.
This letter holds a special significance in the battle of students vs the state, for the simple reason that it highlights the why nots, as well as what nexts. Among the points proposed in the letter, is an encouragement to adopt the model of Chhattisgarh board in holding the class 12 exams, on a take from home model.
Here is the full text of the letter.
— Start of the letter —
Dear Ramesh Pokhriyal ji,
Much has been publicly said and debated regarding the holding of the 12 Standard CBSE exams in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have already expressed my views on this issue publicly on multiple forums as have many others.
However, | am writing to you today to put before you the views of students, parents and teachers who have interacted with me on social media platforms so that you may be able to better understand the human, emotional and psychological cost of holding these exams under the circumstances. These children are the future generation of Indians. They have already coped with immense pressures in the last year of their schooling. For much of the year, their schools remained closed, the normal interactions with friends that children thrive on have been practically absent. Many contracted COVID-19 themselves and many have lost people they love, family members and friends in this year of tragedy and turmoil.
The second wave has been even more devastating and traumatic than the first. The unimaginable pain we have suffered collectively as a nation in these last few months will probably be imprinted on the individual and collective psyches of our children for the rest of their lives. How can we expect them to set aside all that they are witnessing and focus on their board exams? How can we, as the guardians of their future, refuse to hear their cries of help and turn away from their requests to be heard? In fact, how can we willingly put them in a situation that is potentially dangerous and life threatening for them? Have we learnt nothing from events like the Panchayat elections in UP where the government promised that all COVID-19 rules and precautions would be in place only to subject teachers and election officials to crowded spaces where all caution was thrown to the wind?
Over 1600 teachers lost their lives for the very same reason that we are now imposing on students of the 12th standard – because they were given no choice but to show up in a situation that endangered their lives.
Below is a summary of messages from students, parents and teachers who have written to me in the last few days. I request you to please consider them carefully and ensure that our next generation is protected and safe:
- Students and parents overwhelmingly feel that appearing for exams in crowded examination centers is extremely unsafe. Some have written saying that they have vulnerable relatives at home – aged grandparents or ailing parents. They will be putting them at risk as well.
- Many have suggested that as in other countries, internal assessments should be made for the students considering that the second wave of the pandemic has hit so hard at the very time when they were to study and sit for their exams. The very real fear and psychological trauma of the raging pandemic coupled with prolonged and intense pressure of the board exams can lead to severe mental health issues like depression, anxiety and PTSD.
- Many students and parents suggested that there should be a comprehensive strategy by which students should be vaccinated fully before sitting for the exams. It is now too late to do this for this batch of students as they have already lost too much time. However, this could be the basis of plans made for students who might face similar circumstances in 2022.
- The Chhattisgarh government has found some interesting and viable solutions to this issue. Some parents suggested that the CBSE board could follow a similar pattern. The exams could be conducted at home as open book exams, exam booklets could be picked up from schools or centers and returned after a set period of a few days. This would enable students to give the exams in a safe and conducive environment.
- Many students wrote to say that they have lost loved ones, some have even lost one or both parents in the last few months. It is cruel and heartless to expect these children not only to study and perform well in the board exams, but even more so to subject themselves to crowded exam centers at which there is no guarantee for their health and safety.
- One student made the point that conducting these exams may encourage a third wave. In fact, experts have repeatedly stated that a third wave is imminent. They have also warned that the third wave might be more perilous for children and teenagers. It is undeniable that children will collect in large numbers in exam centers across India if these exams are to be held. If infected, they will carry the infection back home to their siblings and other family members. Indeed, it is quite possible that the beginnings of another wave might develop from these circumstances.
- Uncountable children are suffering from trauma, anxiety and depression already. Many have written to me saying how helpless and bereft they feel. They have been in this state of limbo for months now, struggling to cope with disease, deaths of people around them and circumstances that would have been unimaginable for any of us just two years ago. It is unfair to prolong this decision any further and to cause them even more stress when it is entirely avoidable.
- Some parents have also suggested that if the government forces them to endanger their children’s lives, then the Ministry of Education, the CBSE board and all those directly or indirectly responsible for such a decision should be prepared to be held legally liable for any mishap and/or damage due to disease or death that might take place as a consequence of their decision.
At the end of the day these are young children. It is our responsibility and duty to protect them. I once again urge you to reconsider holding the CBSE 12 board exams and to consider the above suggestions made by them very, very seriously. It will be a great injustice if they are pushed into
circumstances that endanger their lives when it is completely unnecessary and it will be a great pity if we let them down at this trying time in their lives.
— End of the letter —
On the matter of cancellation of class 12 board exams, the next hearing in Supreme Court is on 3rd June.
Meanwhile, DHSE Kerala has just announced that they will hold plus one exams in September.