Almost a year after the Central Board of Secondary Education's (CBSE) decision to cancel pending board exams after a Supreme Court directive, the board is facing the same dilemma on the conduct of Class 12 board exams amid the second and deadly wave of COVID-19.
In addition to the appeal of students, the board is facing a case in the Supreme Court, filed by Senior Advocate Mamata Sharma asking the Centre to cancel Class 12 exams in view of the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Interestingly, another opposing plea has been filed by Tony Joseph, a teacher from Kerala, who argued that board exams must not be scrapped as they are “important for admissions to higher educational institutions.”
As uncertainty looms large yet again, we examine why CBSE is not in favour of internal assessment, if internal assessment can be used to mark students, and whether vaccinating students is a practical solution.
But before we delve into these questions, let’s look at a timeline of decisions taken by CBSE with regard to Class 10 and 12 board exams from 2020, when COVID-19 led to a nationwide lockdown.
What happened in 2020 ?
18 March: CBSE postpones all ongoing exams in India and abroad, while adding that they will be rescheduled after 31 March 2020.
1 April: Board says it will conduct exams only for main subjects, cancels Pending Class 10 and 12 exams in foreign countries.
8 May: Union Minister of Education Ramesh Pokhriyal announces conduct of pending CBSE exams from 1 to 15 July.
20 May: Minister Pokhriyal announces students can write pending exams in their own schools.
10 June: Parents file plea in the Supreme Court calling for scrapping of pending exams, demand internal assessment.
25 June: Ministry of Education tells Supreme Court CBSE exams have been cancelled, exams optional for Class 12.
26 June: Students to be marked for pending papers on the basis of average, calculated from marks obtained in top two or three board exam papers written by students.
What is CBSE saying this year ?
CBSE, which had earlier said that Class 10 students won’t be writing board exams this year and will be marked on the basis of internal assessment, has proposed to go ahead with Class 12 board exams, for which it has suggested two options.
First Option: A three-hour examination for 20 major subjects in August.
Second Option: A 90-minute exam for major subjects in the form of objective MCQs in the home centre.
But why can’t CBSE scrap Class 12 exams, like it did last year ?
When CBSE postponed board exams for the first time on 18 March 2020, exams for most core subjects had already taken place both for Class 10 and 12 – except for students in violence-hit Northeast Delhi.
This, a CBSE official said, made it slightly easier to not conduct exams and mark students based on their scores in board papers they had already written.
“This year students have not written a single board paper. Last year, most important exams had already been conducted at an all India level, with the exception of Northeast Delhi.”CBSE Official.
The official clarified that so far no concrete decision has been taken and that the board will go with whichever of its two suggestions are preferred.
Can students still be marked on the basis of internal assessment ?
The Quint spoke to three school principals in New Delhi, Pune and Ambala, all of whom expressed reservation against the conduct of exams and urged the board to consider alternate ways of marking students.
Ameeta Mulla Wattal, Principal, Springdales School, Delhi: According to Wattal, the battle this time is between the risk involved and the benefit of having board exams. However, when one looks at the intensity and the virulence of the virus, “it completely overshadows the importance of boards,” she says.
Fearing a rise in numbers when lockdown restrictions are lifted in Delhi and other parts of the country, Wattal says that it is important to end the trauma of students – some of whom have lost either one or both parents to the second wave – and identify alternative ways of marking students that can allow them to focus on college admissions instead.
Wattal adds that historical scores of a student’s performance in the last two to three years, coupled with practical marks can be used to arrive at a score.
Dr Laxmi Kumar, Director, The Orchid School, Pune: Referring to CBSE’s suggestion of reduced exam time, Dr Kumar says that it is not the length of the exposure, but the intensity of the virus that is worrisome.
Dr Kumar argues that if Class 10 students – who did not write a single board paper this year – can be marked on the basis of internal assessment, the same should be applicable to students of Class 12.
“We have have to look at previous scores. Moreover, most colleges and institutions have their own entrance tests, so taking a cumulative score of Class 11 and 12 to mark board exam students should not impact college admissions in a major way.”Dr Laxmi Kumar, Director, The Orchid School, Pune.
Neelu Sandhu, Principal, The SD Vidya School, Ambala: Sandhu says that children have been left in the lurch by wavering decisions and couldn’t study as the almost every home had a COVID-19 patient in it.
“Schools should conduct internal exams online, on the basis of which Class 12 children can be promoted,” she says. Echoing Kumar, Sandhu says that since college admissions can be based on entrance tests, board exams results could solely be based on internal assessment.
What is the Delhi government demanding?
Following a national-level meeting of all states on the subject of Class 12 board exams, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia wrote to the Union Minister of Education Ramesh Pokhriyal, urging him to cancel board exams if vaccination of all students and teachers is not possible.
In his letter, Sisodia says that in case Covishield or Covaxin cannot be given to students below 18, the Centre should procure the Pfizer vaccine that can be administered to those above 12.
In case vaccination of students is not possible, Sisodia suggested that students should be marked on the basis of performance in Class 10 board exams, coupled with marks scored in internal exams for Class 11 and 12.
Can students be vaccinated ahead of exams?
However, there are major problems associated with the suggestion of vaccinating students before board exams.
Firstly, as physician-scientist Dr Swapneil Parikh points out, at the moment, neither of the three vaccines approved for use in India can be used for those under 18, because studies on this age group have not been carried out.
“The vaccines available in India have not been trialled for this purpose and it is unlikely that the trials will be completed in time for this.”Dr Swapneil Parikh.
Even if existing vaccines in India are approved for students, the fact that the interval between vaccines the first and second dose have been increased to 12 to 16 weeks (three to four months) needs to be accounted.
Dr Parikh believes that if the choice is between vaccinating students below 18 years for conducting exams or cancelling them altogether, it is better to go with non-pharmaceutical interventions like scrapping board exams and finding other ways of marking students.