Don’t risk lives for Class 12 boards. Focus on innovating pathways to higher education

India’s devastating Covid second wave has served a bitter lesson against complacent attitudes, including those that allowed mass gatherings. This lesson should shape all decision-making in the foreseeable future. Currently, Centre is involved in deliberations with states on deciding the modalities for conducting Class 12 CBSE board exams. Two options have been presented: One proposes regular exams only for the major subjects in August. The second option moots short duration tests involving multiple choice and short answer questions in two phases over July and August, recognising varying regional spread of the pandemic.

However, both options detain students in exam halls in an indoor setting: 180 minutes for option A and 90 minutes for option B. So both carry the risk of indoor exposure to the virus. The latest government scientific advisory even warns of aerosol spread up to 10 metres. Nor are the Class 12 students vaccinated. Many parents haven’t got jabs either. Experts worry the next wave could predominantly hit schoolgoers for these reasons. Heed their advice and avert potential superspreader events in this demographic.

Understandably, students are anxious about future prospects in the absence of exams. It is indeed critical that fair internal assessment procedures be devised instead. And scores in Class 12 boards are not the only gateway to higher education. In a situation where these scores cannot help in rational, comparative assessments, the onus falls on higher education institutions to reimagine admission processes. Some institutions have successfully conducted online entrance tests and interviews to select students. Such capabilities must be explored across the board. With the window for students pursuing international admissions also narrowing, CBSE must act fast. Uncertainty multiplies anxiety.

At least two states are open to conducting exams if students are vaccinated. There is no unanimity here: Some states want physical exams when the Covid situation improves, others like Maharashtra oppose the exam route. Basing decisions on the second wave’s downward trend is also dangerous given the risks posed by mutations and the largely unquantified rural outbreak. Maharashtra’s Amaravati district, which signalled the second wave in February, is encountering a Covid upswing again. India is still detecting 2 lakh-plus cases daily, over two times higher than the first wave’s peak. If  July or August coincide with another wave, the whole process could be vitiated, prolonging the agony for students. If exams trigger Covid clusters, that isn’t good either. Prioritise lives over exams. Decide wisely.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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