Here’s a question to all who completed schools pre-COVID era: Do you remember what you and I were doing when we were in final months of class 12?
If you were in my shoes, you were – obviously being in India – preparing for board exams. Some of us, including me, were also preparing for entrance exams. We were also busy picking out our dream college and checking out their admission process and cut offs. Some of us were packing up our bags to join colleges abroad. A brave few had taken the NDA exam and were ready to go join the training. Some were even exploring job opportunities after 12th. – There was a lot going on.
But what was NOT going on, was a pandemic.
What was also not going on, was us having not attended schools for an entire year, or being in and out of lockdowns and curfews.
And what was also definitely not going on, was us hearing the deaths of our near and dear ones every confounded day.
How old is an average class 12 student? Around 16 or 17 or 18. This teenager is anyhow unwittingly a part of the world’s most competitive education system. Consider these to validate the concept – An article in BBC’s The Life Project cites education in India as “education is a brutally competitive arena in India”. The acceptance rates of Ivy league colleges varies between 6-16%, whereas the acceptance rates in the most sought after streams in IITs is a measly .063%.
On top of that, this competition, he /she is also now in midst the worst pandemic in 100 years (said Anthony Fauci himself).
While the class 12 students in last year had still had the “privilege” of almost completing school normally, those this year, have not seen a classroom in over a year.
This batch of class 12 students have seen different circumstances than all the batches before them. And even after all that, they would have sat in the class 12 board exams (those in Bihar, Kerala already did), had things not taken a turn for the worse. But now things are worse, and they cannot do anything about it.
Here are a few small obvious times a kid will be exposed and his/her health will be compromised, if they take board exams –
- Travel – Those who have a car, good, and those who don’t? Statistia.com says “Car ownership stood at 30 vehicles for every thousand Indians at the end of 2018, a small figure for a population of over 1.3 billion.”
- Wait with hundreds of people outside the test centers – We all witnessed the social distancing protocols executed in exams last year. The intentions are well placed, but the execution is not practical considering the numbers.
- Sit with other students in the same room, at whatever distance be it.
You (not you if you are a 12th student reading this, other yous – those who completed school pre-COVID referred to in first line) and I are probably currently at home. Colleges are having classes and exams from home. Those in jobs – some of us have been blessed with work from home privilege. Some of us unfortunately have to go out to do our jobs. Few of us have had the freedom to opt out of said latter jobs and seek opportunities where we do not have to risk our life by going out. How can this kid, who is not old enough to enjoy the rights of an adult – be asked to carry out a task that even adults are not doing right now?
If the decision is to hold the exams at a time when cases are less, it is unclear what is being considered less and more, anymore. What is assumed as “less” today, was “critical” until a few months ago. Is that a risk we are willing to take with the future of the nation?
And let us set aside the feasibility and risk concerns for a second – the emotional trauma an average class 12 student has undergone has been far worse than what others of their age had to go through a few years ago.
When times were simpler, our worries were schools, tuitions, board exam preparations, college admissions, rejections, and “normal” things like those. Like I mentioned before, we were not subjected to news of deaths of people we know EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
It would take a person of iron will and absolute emotional control, to be able to go through the normal motions of the education system under such circumstances. And on top of it all, to be asked to go out and sit for the exams, knowing the dangers that the situation may present.
That being said, there is, of course, the other side of the coin.
The future of the same children that we want to be saved by cancelling board exams, may ironically depend on these very exams.
The decision to cancel class 12 board exams cannot come as an individual decision. The decision has to be accompanied by a solid plan on what next.
Cancelling class 12 board exams cannot be a ‘just do it’ sort of action.
Take Maharashtra board for example. Having cancelled the SSC exams, the board is now in a fix on how to carry out college admissions – under normal circumstances, FYJC admissions are based on class 10 marks. Now a common entrance test is under discussions for these admissions. Replacing one set of exams with another isn’t exactly what students had in mind when the news of exams cancellation came.
A far more arduous decision making process will have to be set in place for class 12 students if their exams are cancelled – the whole college admission process depends heavily on class 12 results. And it is not just the admissions, entrance exams, career opportunities, they all hinge on 12th exams. Even students who plan to study abroad need to have some semblance of class 12 performance report.
If the results of class 12 students are also announced on the basis of internal assessments, it is doubtful whether it will be considered to be equally justifiable of the student’s aptitude as the board exams. Will more entrance exams be introduced then by even those colleges that used to set cut offs based on class 12 marks until now?
The decision making process is in this is going to be no child’s play.
All we can hope for is that this young student who has seen far more than he should have seen, borne more emotional trauma than he should have borne – this student should not be expected to handle any more. Because I am not sure how much more he can.