Class 12 Exam Cancelled: Is It Aimed at Young Voters? Look at Data
It is important that the cancellation of the Class 12 Board exams was announced by the PM, not CBSE or HRD ministry
The Union government on Tuesday, 1 June, decided to cancel the Class 12 Board examinations of the Central Bureau of Secondary Education (CBSE), citing the “safety” of students in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As soon as the decision was announced, a number of people on social media alleged that this could be aimed at wooing young voters for the central and state elections.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday surprised a group of CBSE students and their parents by taking part in a session organised for them by the Union Education Ministry. PM Modi interacted with the parents and spoke to them about their concerns.
This article will try and examine two questions:
- Why is the move to cancel the exams being seen in a political light?
- Irrespective of the intent, could the move have a political impact?
Why Are People Seeing Politics Over Cancellation of Board Exams?
The main reason why political motives are being attributed to the move is not the announcement per se but the manner in which it was made.
The decision was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from his official Twitter handle. He wrote:
“Government of India has decided to cancel the Class XII CBSE Board Exams. After extensive consultations, we have taken a decision that is student-friendly, one that safeguards the health as well as future of our youth.”
PM Modi was even part of the review meeting in which the decision was taken.
When the Class 12 examinations were cancelled last year, due to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, the decision was conveyed by the CBSE to the Supreme Court.
This year, the decision could very well have been communicated by the CBSE through a press conference or a press release. Given that it was a key government decision, at most it could have been done by the HRD minister. It is surprising that the PM has made this announcement.
So, people may be justified in asking whether this was done to gain political mileage or to get some positive headlines for the government at a time when it is facing flak over its handling of the pandemic.
This perception may have been strengthened by the fact that many BJP supporters gave credit to the PM on social media while Congress supporters said this was done due to the suggestion of party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Vadra had written to the Centre to cancel the exam a few days ago. Both sides claimed that this was a win for the safety of students.
Other than Vadra, Opposition leaders like Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin and former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav had also called for cancellation of the exam.
It must be said that even if the intent was political, one can hardly find fault with the Modi government for taking this decision or the Opposition parties for pushing for it. Given the threat of COVID-19 and the logistical constraints of such a large examination, the Centre's decision seems justified.
What Will Be the Political Impact of Cancelling the Exams?
Whether the move was due to political reasons like wooing young voters or getting positive publicity or if it was genuinely done for the safety of students, is tied to another question – what is its political impact?
This question is important because if the impact isn't much, it may be pointless to attribute political motives.
Data provides an important reality check. CBSE actually accounts for a very small fraction of the total number of students who giving the Class 12 exam. According to estimates from 2018, close to 1.5 crore students gave the Class 12 exams out of which only 11.9 lakh were under the CBSE.
CBSE accounts for just about eight percent of the total number of students giving the class 12 exam.
It is only because relatively more influential sections send their children to CBSE schools that it gets more attention than state boards. The announcement regarding state board exams will be made by the respective state governments.
Two other boards that come under the Centre's domain are the ICSE and the National Institute of Open Schooling. NIOS accounts for a bigger chunk than CBSE – a little over 12 lakh according the 2018 estimates while ICSE just had 80,000 students giving the class 12 exam.
Put together, the three boards account for 16 percent of the total number of Class 12 students. State boards like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar have more students giving the Class 12 exam than CBSE.
Therefore, the Centre's move may impact only about 16 percent of the students. In absolute terms, this was about 25 lakh students in 2018. Even if this goes up to 40 lakh by 2024 general elections, it would still not be a very significant vote bank in itself as this would be distributed across the country and concentrated except for in a few places like Delhi.
The only way the government or the Opposition can gain mileage out of this move is if they are able to convince voters that the cancellation of exams across states and boards was due to the Modi government or due to a particular Opposition leader.
That too would be based on the assumption that all the students are happy with the move. It may well be that a small chunk might actually be wanting to give the exam.
Therefore, it is important not to overestimate the political impact of this move.
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