The Government of India has, on June 1, 2021 announced the cancellation of Class 12 School Board Examination in the wake of the need of the safety and the health of the students against the deadly second wave of Corona pandemic rampant all over India, and has come as a relief to all the stakeholders. It had been earlier postponed when there was a widespread outbreak of the pandemic. A debate was going on at the level of the government as well as the public about the time and ways of holding the Class 12 board examination, which is a crucial stage and is in many ways the core factor which significantly determines the future course of an individual’s life. But there is no clarity as to how the Class 12 students will move to the next stage i.e., the college stage? At present it is suggested that the results will be prepared on the basis of the past performance of the students. CBSE is providing its guidelines for the preparation of the results. It is also suggested that the willing students will be given opportunities to appear in a test which will be organized later. The state governments are responding differently. As the outcome of the decision rages on this issue Shri Dinesh Goyal Ji, a publisher and social worker of longstanding experience in the field of education, puts forth his views cogently on the issue.
Q: As a citizen of India, actively involved for almost the last 40 years, either as a publisher or a social worker, for the pursuit and growth of school education in India, what is your take on the major decision of cancelling the Class 12 board examination?
DG: India is a federal nation and the Indian democracy is essentially pluralistic in nature. This character of the Indian nation is very much present and evident in its education system too. The central government, the state government and the local level governing bodies have different sets of schools affiliated to them. It is embedded in the system that each level of government has the right to manage the schools under it, in accordance with its own plans and policies. Similarly, another very important factor crucially involved in the Indian education system is that the annual examination of each academic year holds the highest importance in the whole education system of the schools. In other countries, this scenario is somewhat different, today where the factor of Assessment is essentially a continuous process in a school system, which holds very high level of importance and is, by and large, the main determinant of the entire educational process. Today, the education systems of the entire Western World, including that of USA and Australia and also of the bigger and rising countries of the East like China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, etc., are heavily based on an effective system of Assessment. The practice of Annual Examination just supplements the process of Assessment even IB and Cambridge International boards; thrive on this kind of education system. The IB holds only one examination i.e., the examination of the Diploma Programme (Grade 12 final school examination) in its entire system of schooling, although it heavily relies on a continuous and comprehensive system of assessment, which is an integral part of the IB curriculum. My objective of putting forward this description is that there are two clear tools through which students get promotion from one class to another is Schools–Assessment, as explained and the Annual Examination. Either both or either of the two can be used to promote a student from one class to the next class. But suppose, you do not have the system of assessment and suddenly you decide to annul the practice of annual examination, then how will
you promote the student from one grade or class to another? I feel that this announcement has put us in this situation of doldrums. Many schools do not have the records of the respective assessment year because they neither could open the school nor could have any provision of online classes. These schools, in accordance of their tradition, culture and grooming heavily depend on the practice of annual examinations for determining the merit of the students and setting the system for their graduation from one level to the next level.
Q: What you say may hold true about the state board schools or the local government-run schools but what would you say about the CBSE and ICSE schools?
DG : Today, CBSE has given guidelines to the schools to upload the merit list of the students based on the past records of their internal assessment done in the respective academic year. All the affiliated schools will promptly do it but I do not understand how such uploaded merit lists prepared by individual schools will be treated as uniform, standardized, fair and bias-free on the common platform at all-India level? How it can become the basis of admission to colleges? If the colleges, as being talked, will take entrance screening tests then what is the sense of this merit list? Moreover, when some Indian states like West Bengal are not accepting this announcement, many who accepted it and have done the announcement of exam cancellation are skeptical about the ways they would prepare the merit list of the students. In this given scenario an impelling thought is hovering my head as to why we did not think of some alternative ways of holding the examination instead of cancelling it?
Q: When you say this, what might have been the possible alternative ways of holding the examination?
DG: In order to explain this, I shall request you to have a closer look at our education system. Firstly, the CBSE Schools are just a smaller part of the total number of schools in India. There are approximately 23 thousand CBSE schools and 22 hundred ICSE schools in India whereas the total number of schools in the country, as per the government data, is 15 lakhs. Education is largely a state subject in India. In the constitution of India, till late 1970s, education was in State List and it was only through the historic 42nd Amendment that education was put into the Concurrent list. It was only after that the central government got the right to take steps in the field of education i.e., why this announcement is now getting endorsed by the individual state governments separately.
My contention is as to how can a remote area state board school which has remained almost closed for last one year and with no clear provision of online education and which, due to systemic reasons, have no track record of the day-to-day performance of the students, will prepare the merit list of its class 12 board students on the basis of which they will pass the examination. This is the reality of our country that our maximum schools are of this very kind; It is a hard reality but absolutely true that there are several such schools of state government. There is no culture of taking regular assessments of the students in a large number of state board or local government schools. How will they prepare the merit list of the students for their promotion to college stage of education?
In India we have a deep-rooted tradition of what we call the annual examination or summative examination. The students, teachers and the parents look forward to it and do all kinds of preparations to follow it. In schools, the practice of annual examination is like an annual festival. So, its sudden cancellation may create a sort of an unknown vacuum in the school system.
Here, I want to draw your attention to another significant aspect of education in India. It is getting highlighted and finds a mention in the NEP 2020 too that we have in India our own indigenous system of education which we seem to have forgotten completely.
Today, we understand education as just the need of literacy, numeracy and certain empirical knowledge but we have forgotten that learning family business from our seniors is also an education. We have a very rich tradition of vocational learning at family level but under the impact of the modern education system introduced in India by the British government in the pre-independence era for the realization of their imperialistic objectives, we gave up all those learning systems. We got attracted to pure English education system and destroyed the fabric of our native education system. This culture of getting ready towards an annual examination was introduced and developed by the British government in India in the name of modern education heavily drawn on Macaulay’s guidelines. Even after independence, we continued with the same system. Hence now, a sudden cancellation of it, is likely to create confusion and lots of chaos.
Q: What would have been the possible alternatives to this cancellation of Class 12 examination in India?
DG: I fully understand that calling students physically at one place for the purpose of examination is highly risky when the pandemic is still present all over the country. I also understand that the students, parents and teachers need emotional support and the fear and anxiety of examination are not good for them. I even agree that the track record of student’s performance in the school is the best criteria to be used as the basis for marking them for their annual board results. But as discussed, the problems of education in India are manifold. On the face of the deeper complexity of the Indian education system, this decision to cancel the examination is too simplistic and prone to give birth to new problems.
A very sharp question which is being raised is why there should be an examination in the 2020- 21 academic session when there have been no classes and teaching for the whole year,? In fact, this question does not hold true about the CBSE and ICSE schools. As we all know , a rigorous work has undergone in carrying out online education in those schools. The efforts of teachers and parents should not be undermined. This fact is supported by the fact that these schools charged fees and the parents paid it. So to say that the learning did not happen due to the closure of these ( CBSE and ICSE) schools will not be true in the real sense of the term. However, this question of no classes and complete closure causing no learning holds, to a great extent true about the state board schools and several municipal corporation schools. By and large, there were no classes, offline or online , held in the 2020-21 session in most of these schools. But due to this reason, if all students are just passed without any test or assessment then what is the sense of having the academic institution and what is the value of educational performance?
Even a minimum standard testing process could have been thought out and it could be carried out for these schools. During the present Covid period, all schools are closed and classrooms are empty. Even the teachers are relatively free. So, some minimum standard examination could have been conducted in phased manner in school premises itself calling small numbers of students in batches at a time and in this way, by using all the classrooms carefully, the formality of examination could have been completed in these schools too. Such method -based
arrangements could have given us alternative ways to hold the examination in the schools where it was necessary.
As explained, one way to hold the examination in the present scenario is to conduct it in a phased manner. In batches, the students could have been made to appear in the different subject’s examinations. Another possibility is to divide the examinees into two categories – Online examinees and Offline examinees. Needless to discuss, the online examinees can be easily handled with Covid protocol, as there are several authentic and easy ways to do it. Offline examinees need to be handled in many different specialized ways, where they could have been called in small batches in phased manner and made to write their papers under a strict arrangement of Covid Protocol. Another way is the one which is under discussion in West Bengal and other states, at present. Under this practice every examinee is given an exam kit and a time period of assessment. Their examination could be designed on Open Book Open Web (OBOW) model in which they could sit back home and complete the examination.
Your concerns seem to be quite genuine as it emanates from hard –core practical aspects of the cancellation of the examination. What do you want to suggest finally if this is the true scenario?
DG: What I want to emphasize here is that there could have been several other better ways than cancelling the examination. The government must have shown a little more firmness and resilience while taking this decision. Before a decision making, a large-scale brainstorming session of multiple levels was required to be undertaken. It is admirable that the government has just recently shown a high maturity level in successfully accomplishing the mammoth tasks of conducting elections as well as the Covid-prevention vaccination. The same spirit was required to handle the Class 12 board examination. By a firm resolve and determination the government could have handled the Class 12 examination successfully.
Just imagine a situation, as getting indicated by the trends now, in which Corona pandemic gets largely controlled and in the given scenario, we decide to open the Schools, say by mid of July 2021, then how will it appear to realize that we have cancelled our highly important examination for a reason which no longer has remained valid ?
We, in India, with a population of 130 crore, could have set an example for the whole world by managing our education system judiciously and effectively. We were all aware of Covid- 19 situation in advance but unfortunately our preparation for the class 12 examination was somewhat ill-prepared and as such not fool-proof. Now we see a bit of confusion and chaos everywhere due to cancellation of class 12 examination. Even the happiness obtained by the realization that the examination is cancelled is short-lived because the problems which it has brought about are even bigger.
Federation of Educational Publishers, India