CHENNAI: It seems like I have been in this class for a year; my last year of school started in April 2020. Now, more than a year later, I am still studying the same portions that my younger sister, who just graduated to class 12, is studying”. This short account by state board student Akshaya Gopalakrishnan is a perfect summary of the plight of class 12 students, across boards, in a pandemic. For the first time in history, an entire academic year went online.
Robbed of the most important school memories and replaced by endless virtual classes and online exams, the pandemic has been unforgiving to these students, to say the least. The uncertainty of the board exams has only added to the series of unfortunate events. The career-defining board exams, which are usually completed by March, have been continuously delayed, with little information to relieve the kids and their guardians.
Recently, at a meeting with union ministers and state education ministers, the Tamil Nadu government stated that they are strongly in favour of conducting the class 12 board exams. The CBSE has given the states two options – either conduct examinations for the main 19 subjects at designated centres or have 90-minute objective exams at the students’ schools. After collecting feedback from the states, Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank is expected to announce the final decision on June 1.
But these decisions are yet to ease parents’ woes as they are concerned about their children’s future. “They seem to be free and without any pressure. Tests are being conducted but I don’t see any seriousness in that. There is no counselling or guidance. This has put us in a dilemma as we don’t know what sort of courses our son should look at,” rues Jeevika*, mother of Krishna*, a Matriculation student.
A petition was also filed with the Supreme Court regarding the cancellation of board exams and the hearing on this matter has been adjourned to today. “Being a teacher and a parent, (I know that) conducting an exam will be tough because it requires a lot of manpower. With this infectious virus, even if the curve flattens a bit, will the government take the decision of conducting exams among the difficulties? As a parent, I might not prefer to send my child to the exam hall.
It’s a very difficult decision,” exclaims Parvathy Swaminathan, a teacher and mother of S Darshan, a CBSE student. Shravan*, whose child studies in the state board curriculum, seems to disagree. “Exam cancellation could be from the point of view of health, given the pandemic. However, board exams are the decision-maker for choosing a career. So we are not in favour of cancelling the exams,” he says. Vinay, another parent, concurs. “Unless board exams are conducted, there will not be a sense of achievement for the kids. If they are cancelled, it will be a waste of one whole year. Even colleges should consider this as a special year, where students must be given admission solely based on merit,” he shares.
Exams done, what next?
While the final exams of CBSE and state board are haunting the children and parents, schools following the Cambridge curriculum took a more definitive route. The curriculum has three major examinations every academic year, held in February-March, May-June, and October-November. While offline exams were conducted in February and March, they cancelled the ones in May and June and offered school assessments instead. “We’re glad that Cambridge quickly came up with what they are doing. The exams are cancelled. And they quickly spelt out the next steps.
That’s not the case with CBSE, where the board is still deliberating what to do,” says Jayashree Baskaran, Srinidhi’s mother. However, despite the finality of the decision by the Cambridge board, they have not escaped the effects of the state and CBSE board exams, it seems. “Some of the colleges I’ve applied to are going to conduct online exams soon. Some others are not very sure, which is a little unsettling...I am applying only in India but a lot of my friends, who applied abroad, already have college offers in their hands and they are just waiting for results to commit to their college,” laments Srinidhi Sridharan.
Revise and repeat
The situation is a lot more complicated for students like Harshita and SR Neelan Shankar, who are preparing for the NEET exams. “Classes 11 and 12 portions are the base for any Science course. Since we did not have classroom sessions this year, we have lost out on understanding certain concepts. This can be slightly disadvantageous to us,” says Neelan. Meanwhile, Harshita is utilising her time to brush up on concepts.
“I will be appearing for NEET this year and I have been taking online coaching for that. For this entrance exam, we have to be strong with our class 11 portions as well. So every day, I spend the first half preparing for board exams and the second half preparing for NEET. I take one subject per day,” she says. While students juggle with preparations for college admissions as well as board exams, most schools are conducting revision exams currently.
Akshaya, who is giving her fourth revision test, following the fiveunit tests her school already conducted, says, “It consumes the better part of my day. We write the exam on paper while being logged into Google Classrooms. A teacher invigilates like they do for any exam that is conducted in school. After the three-hour test, it takes us about an hour to click pictures of what we wrote, compile it as a PDF and send it to our teachers. But I must say, these revision tests have prepared me better for the board exams.”
Mental health matters
Apart from the learning crutch, several social relationships had to be foregone for the sake of health and well-being. Students who were looking forward to spending their last year with their friends and classmates were stuck socialising behind a screen. “While there weren’t inadequacies from the school’s side, when it came to the students, I think it was a bit much for them to be online all the time. It wasn’t easy. There’s always fatigue that comes with it.
I noticed a lot of mood swings in my daughter Sneha, who is a sweet child; sometimes, I even noticed depression and anger issues. It has nothing to do with the school but the system is very different for the students. And they have not been in touch with their classmates. The teachers gave breaks but they were online all day. It wasn’t easy on the children or teachers. But they both did their best,” remarks Vidhya Venugopal. With her last year behind her, Cambridge board student Sneha looks back at what she missed out on. “In school, there is a study environment.
There is a classroom where there are teachers, students and there is a face-to-face conversation. Even during exams, there is a sense of moral support and discussion. With online classes, it felt like all we were doing was logging in, attending a bunch of sessions and logging out. We did find our ways to make it entertaining — teachers conducted activities and had funny students share jokes. And the classes did prepare us but only for a test, not for our last year of school where you spend time with teachers and friends, and talk to them about university, jobs, interviews and all that,” she says. Where does this path lead them next? That’s what’s giving many a student and parent sleepless nights.
“The future is a question mark. We don’t know which way to go and what to decide. This has created some anxious moments for us. We have been in touch with some colleges but they are also clueless. We don’t know whether they have an entrance exam or direct selection,” says Shravan. As the students lose their summer holidays to worries and waiting, their future hinges on what the apex court decides.
*Names changed on request
Is this the Solution?
While CBSE is yet to come up with a decision, according to reports, they may consider students’ performance in the last three years to make assessments. However, CBSE officials have not confirmed the same.