As the second wave of COVID-19 hit the court, it disrupted the exam schedule. While almost all of the states cancelled the Class 10 exam, uncertainty is still looming over the Class 12 board exam and various entrance tests.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Singh chaired the crucial meeting on Sunday to discuss the same. Union ministers Smriti Irani, Prakash Javadekar and Sanjay Dhotre also attended the meeting, besides education ministers and secretaries of several states and union territories.
An "informed, collaborative" decision on the Class 12 board exam will be taken at the earliest, the Union Education Minister said on Sunday after a high-level meet could not take a call with the Delhi government and a section of parents pitching for its cancellation amid the pandemic and others favouring holding it at a later period.
After the over-two-hour meeting chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said the states and union territories have been asked to submit their detailed suggestions on the matter by May 25.
An informed, collaborative decision on the exams will be taken "at the earliest" to remove uncertainty in the minds of students and their parents, the education minister said, adding that safety, security and future of students and teachers are "supremely important to us".
The virtual meeting was convened to decide on the Class 12 board exams and subsequent entrance examinations that were postponed due to the second wave of COVID-19.
"The meeting was extremely fruitful as we received immensely valuable suggestions. I have requested the state governments to send me their detailed suggestions by May 25. I am confident we will be able to arrive at an informed, collaborative decision regarding the exams and remove the uncertainty among student's and parent's minds by informing them of our final decision at the earliest," Nishank said.
"I want to reiterate that both students' and teachers' safety, security, and future are supremely important to us," he added.
According to officials, the options proposed by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) as well as the feasibility to execute them were discussed at length during the meeting.
A large number of students and parents have been demanding the cancellation of the board exams. The hashtag "cancelboardexams" trended on Twitter as the meeting was underway.
"It was proposed that the board can conduct exams in present format for major subjects and the marking for remaining subjects can be done on basis of performance in the papers for which offline exams will be conducted. The board said the exams can be conducted using this option and increasing the number of centres to ensure social distancing.
"The other option that was proposed was changing the pattern of the exam. If this option is chosen, the exams can be conducted in home schools of students, the duration can be reduced to 90 minutes rather than 3 hours and the questions can be objective type. The students can also be given an option to appear for any three of four subjects in this format," a senior official said.
Here's what states and UTs said during the meeting
Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said his government was not in favour of the options being explored by CBSE to conduct the exams and that going ahead with the process without vaccinating students would prove to be a big mistake.
"Delhi government is not in favour of these options. We cannot play with the safety of students just to fulfil our stubborn wishes. Conducting the examination by toying with students' safety will prove to be a big mistake. There are over 1.5 crores, Class-12 students, across the country and 95 per cent of them are above the age of seventeen-and-a-half years," he said at a press conference post the meeting.
"The Centre should talk to experts if they can be given the Covishield or Covaxin vaccines. The Centre should also talk to Pfizer to explore vaccination for the Class 12 students. It is a must to vaccinate students, especially with experts indicating that the third wave of the coronavirus will be more dangerous for children," he added.
The Tamil Nadu government proposed conducting the exams after the COVID-19 situation subsides in the state.
"Like other states, Tamil Nadu also wanted to conduct the Class 12 board exams as it plays an important role in deciding students career," School Education Minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi told reporters after the meeting.
Karnataka Primary and Secondary Education Minister S Suresh Kumar said it's important to conduct Class 12 exams in the interest of students.
Maharashtra Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad who attended the high-level meeting chaired by the Union Ministers and state education ministers to discuss and finalise the date and format for conducting class 12 CBSE board exams, asserted that providing a safe environment for students amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is the state government's priority.
Speaking to ANI after the consultation chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Gaikwad said, "In today's meet with CBSE, we discussed that providing a safe environment for students is our priority. We will tell the SC that last year was unfortunate for students." She further informed that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray will chair a meeting in the next two days to make a decision on Class 10 and Class 12 examinations.
The CBSE had on April 14 announced the cancellation of Class 10 exams and postponed Class 12 exams due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. The decision was taken at a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The April and May edition of the engineering entrance exam JEE-Mains were also postponed. The board exams, which are usually conducted in February-March every year, were scheduled to be held from May 4.
The CBSE had announced that a decision on the Class 12 board exams will be taken on or after June 1. Schools across the country were closed in March last year to contain the spread of COVID-19 ahead of a nationwide lockdown.
(With inputs from agencies)