Decision to cancel board exams good but doesn’t quell anxiety of students, says expert
Decision to cancel board exams good but doesn’t quell anxiety of students, says expert

Following the Central government’s decision to cancel the CBSE Class 12 board exams last week, the Rajasthan government has also cancelled the state board exams for students of Class 10 and 12 on June 2. Rajasthan's education minister Govind Singh Dotasra announced the cancellation of the RBSE board exams to keep students safe in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. An alternative evaluation criteria will be announced shortly and the new academic session will begin on June 7. Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot also announced a mass promotion without exams for classes 1 to 6, as well as for classes 8, 9, and 11. Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand among other states have also announced the cancellation of their respective board exams.

The reactions to this decision have predictably been mixed. While many educators and students expressed relief that their concerns about health and safety were addressed, others are apprehensive about whether the move can address uncertainties that have plagued the education system since the onset of the pandemic. There are concerns also about how the academic performance of students will be evaluated now. What about those who had worked hard to improve their previous scores? Will percentage discrepancies end up impacting the future prospects of millions of students?

Mental health expert Dr Akhilesh Jain (HOD Psychiatry, ESI Model Hospital, Jaipur) says, “Ever since 24 March 2020, schools have remained closed and online classes have replaced classroom teaching in the country. This is unprecedented and its impact on children and adolescents is yet to be understood fully. The dependence on technology for learning and recreation is almost complete and social interactions, outdoor activities have been severely curtailed. Daily routines have been disrupted and home confinement is likely to impact mental health. According to WHO, 50 per cent of all mental health conditions can surface as early as 14 years of age. These often go untreated and undetected.” He says this figure is even more troubling when you consider that, at over 253 million, India has the largest adolescent population in the world.

In rural India, these issues may be even more severe as children do not have access to technology and, in many cases, even proper nutrition at home. They may be suffering from gaps in learning and development. The decision to cancel Class 12 exams, though logical, is a short-term fix. It is still unclear that how are we going to help the student population in rural and urban areas to continue learning without impediments? How will our academic system adapt to the pandemic? Are we equipped to address the mental health issues of our students and quell their anxieties? We need to have a trustworthy methodology that can assess a student correctly.

Divya Santhanam, Senior State Programme Manager at Population Foundation of India says, “When we talk about students being impacted by the cancellation of the exams, we only think of urban students. We have forgotten that millions of rural students have already been impacted by the pandemic. Many have dropped out because of digital incapacity and for many even studying till Class 12 is an impossibility.”

She highlights the need to reach out to young people to hear their concerns and address them accordingly. “We need to gather feedback from students about the questions that are plaguing them about their current situations and future. In this way, we can address the urgent need to implement transparent policies and open up communication with students. Experts are required to formulate strategies and prepare a roadmap so that students know their academic future is safe. We may no longer need a pen and paper mode of examination but we still need a plan about how students are going to cope with the pandemic going forward. Young people are tomorrow's leaders who will shape the narrative of society, and hence, they must be given the tools to deal with their anxieties. To address this challenge effectively, however, we must understand and acknowledge it first,” she says.

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