Faced with an unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases, the Central government has sensibly decided to cancel the upcoming board examinations for Std 10 students, as well as postpone the critical Std 12 board examinations, which determine the future of millions of young men and women.
There can be no quarrel with the decision by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). At a time when hospitals have run out of capacity in mega cities like Mumbai and Delhi – Delhi has achieved the dubious record of reporting more daily infections than any city in the world has done since the beginning of the pandemic – it would have been a foolhardy risk to have crammed millions of young exam takers.
Quite apart from the risk the students themselves would have faced, the attendant risks faced by teachers and school staff at examination centres, as well as the families of the students and teachers, would have made this a reckless exercise. It is good that the government, which was willing to overlook an even more reckless mass gathering of people at the Kumbh Mela for ideological reasons, has finally seen sense. Besides the CBSE, school boards of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and MP have also decided to postpone their state board exams. One hopes that other states will also quickly follow suit and relieve students and parents of their anxiety.
While cancellation of the 10th boards may not have much impact – in fact the previous UPA government had actually abolished them, before the Modi government restored them in its first stint – the uncertainty over the Std 12 boards needs to be addressed and resolved quickly. With India’s vaccination capacity nowhere near adequate to ensure coverage of the vulnerable population for at least another year, the postponement will be meaningless unless steps are taken to treat teachers, invigilators and others as frontline workers and ensure that they get vaccinated.
The government also needs to develop fool-proof protocols to ensure that proper precautions are taken at all examination centres, not just those in privileged schools in urban areas. Schools, particularly those catering to more vulnerable sections of society, must use the additional time to ensure that those students who are at the wrong end of the digital divide are given sufficient help in the intervening period so that they can approach the crucial exams on an equal footing with their more privileged counterparts.
The crisis exposes the utter lack of planning and preparedness within the government in all areas, not just education. From hospital infrastructure to oxygen supplies, they had a year to prepare, which has been frittered away. Likewise, on the exam front, since the pandemic struck when the boards had just started last year, the authorities had sufficient time to prepare an alternative plan. Unfortunately, millions of students and parents will have to once again pay the price for this carelessness and ad hoc-ism.