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Testing Times: To Hold Or Not Hold Class 12 Exams. And How Other Countries Went About It

(Representational Image)

(Representational Image)

A final call on whether to go ahead with Class XII exams is set to come in days. Here's what's at stake

The final decision is still pending on whether, or how, Class 12 exams will be conducted if the authorities do decide to go ahead with it. But a call on higher secondary exams is understandably not as easy as the one on Class X exams, which CBSE has cancelled this year, since the stakes are much higher in terms of students’ career choices. There are key issues involved to resolve which the best solution would have to be found at the intersection of safety and concern for the students’ future given that children are seen as being vulnerable to new variants in the second wave of the pandemic in India.

Why Can’t They Just Cancel The Class XII Exams?

Well, it’s complicated. There is relatively a lot more riding on Class XII exams than the secondary school exams because marks obtained by the students determine what college they can enter to pursue higher studies.

While many universities and institutes do hold entrance tests in certain disciplines, marks scored in exams count for a lot in determining cutoff lists. As an Unesco working paper from April last year noted: “…(T)hese assessments are standardised high-stakes, high-accountability tests, and in some others also linked to teacher performance evaluation and school funding."

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At the online consultation on Class 12 exams chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday, Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ underlined the “the importance of the Class 12 board exams and the all India entrance exams in shaping the future and defining the careers of students”, adding that an “informed, collaborative decision” will be taken soon on the way forward.

What Are The Options On The Table For Holding Exams?

Some suggestions have already been worked out that can facilitate the two scenarios of either holding the exams or dropping them this year.

For one, CBSE has submitted that tests should be conducted according to the usual process only for 20 major subjects and that students should be allowed to appear for written examinations at their own schools and not at designated external centres as is the case with some boards.

A more radical option mooted by CBSE that meets the need for innovative solutions to beat the virus is to have papers on multiple choice question patterns. According to this plan, the examination can be split into two phases and held over 45 days. The duration of the test will be cut by half to 90 minutes instead of the usual 3 hours. Here, too, the students would be required to take the test at their own schools and give their responses on OMR sheets. The board said that this would allow results to be declared in 15 days.

Officials suggested that the first phase of tests could kick off around July 15 with the second phase to follow in the first week of August. That way, the results could be announced by September 5.

Solutions have also been proposed by the states with Maharashtra Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad saying students should be evaluated through retroactive grading. Meanwhile, several states have said they favour the simple expedient of postponing the exams till the situation is more conducive to the holding of exams.

How Have Other Countries Handled The Question Of Exams In The Time Of Covid-19?

The Unesco paper reported that as many as 188 countries had implemented country-wide closures of all places of learning, from kindergartens to colleges and institutes of higher learning. It added that about 1.58 billion students across academic years were affected by school closures, representing 91.3% of total enrolled learners in the world. It noted that only a handful of countries had last year opted for outright cancellation of exams while most others either postponed them or put in place alternative means to hold them. A small group of countries, including the likes of Germany and Spain had also decided to go ahead with exams as per the normal schedule, Unesco added.

For example, while schools in Germany were closed, authorities in all 16 states decided to go ahead with the Abitur final exams that final year school students need to take to enter university. The exams were conducted in smaller, well-ventilated classrooms rather than in big halls and small groups of students sat at least 1.5 metres apart from each other. As to the success rate, several states reported above average results that has since been attributed to subconscious “corona-bonus” generosity in marking.

Spain, for its part, let students appearing for the university entrance “selectividad” exam answer only three out of five questions, testing them only on topics covered before the country went into a lockdown in March last year. But the Spaniards did not report a vastly different performance in those tests.

Would Vaccinating All Students Allow Exams To Go Ahead?

Given that all vaccines now being administered globally have shown proven efficacy in blunting the novel coronavirus, it would be a good strategy for organising school tests. Except that children under 18 are mostly not eligible for vaccines anywhere, including in India. Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia, who has called for CBSE exams to be cancelled, has said vaccination should be extended to children, too, but at the moment there are no jabs available for them.

The best-case scenarios of clinical trials on vaccines for children project a timeframe of till the end of this year or even the next before vaccines for this demographic are launched commercially.

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first published:May 24, 2021, 17:19 IST