Class XII board exams in India are most crucial and critical for Indian high school students, deciding their future and the institutions they will go to eventually. Some call it an unnecessary hype, while others actively participate in making it one. This event of a lifetime, which every student had assiduously prepared for has been cancelled by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) in light of the global pandemic.
After the examinations comfortably commenced in March, the growing threat of Coronavirus, which reached India mid-March 2020, forced all Indian Boards to defer the exams for classes X and XII, till April 2020. Amidst all-night studies, continuous tuitions and hours spent on practice papers, the Indian students were abruptly left in the lurch, bleakly viewing their future careers with trepidation, during the looming threat of the pandemic.
Lockdown 1 by the Indian Government started on 23rd March 2020 with India standing at nearly five hundred cases of COVID-19. This 21-day strict lockdown was declared with a promise for a better situation and a flatter curve thereof. Unfortunately, cause and effect did not progress in a linear way as planned and the country witnessed an increase in cases due to which lockdowns in various forms followed.
With every passing week, anxiety in students who were in the middle of most crucial examination of their school lives mounted and multiplied. While the apprehensions of those who had secured admissions abroad were somewhat assuaged, those who aimed at India’s top educational institutions were battling two situations at once, the pandemic and their futures. After the ‘unlock strategies’ were announced, CBSE declared that the Board examination would be conducted between 1st July-15th July. With the growing number of cases in India and concerns regarding the safety of students, the decision was opposed, and the Supreme Court of India was moved by a Public Interest Litigation.
On 25th June 2020, keeping in mind the importance of a stress-free and conducive environment for examinations and safety of students amidst the health threat caused by the global pandemic, CBSE declared that the Board examinations for class X and XII would be cancelled and an alternative mode of evaluation was announced. The Apex Court on 26th June 2020 approved the same and held that the ICSE would follow the same pattern.
The new evaluation scheme: A respite for some, a nightmare for others
Under the new scheme of evaluation, students who had completed all their examinations, would get their results based on their performance in the examination.
As for students who have appeared in more than three subjects, the average of the marks obtained in the best three exams will be awarded for the rest of the subjects.
For students who have appeared for examinations in only three subjects, an average of the best two will be taken for the rest of the subjects, and for students who have appeared in the examination for less than three subjects, the results will be based on the performance in the appeared subjects and internal/practical/project assessment.
CBSE has stated in its notification that there are very few students of Class XII who have appeared in the category of less than three exams. These students would be graded based on performance in the appeared subjects and internal/practical/project assessment, which obviously has become a significant cause of concern and worry. It is a general norm among students to take pre-board examinations as an opportunity to evaluate how much more work is still required to be put in, keeping the focus on the final board exams. Again, all schools set varying difficulty level question papers for their pre-board exams, and their evaluation pattern also varies depending upon the school’s general practices and systems. Some might believe in checking leniently to boost confidence, and some might do otherwise.
There are also cases wherein students have missed their pre-boards, to either prepare for the main exams or due to illness and other reasons. Keeping all these factors in mind, announcing results which include internal performance can cause great discrepancy and is extremely unfair to students.
To be fair, CBSE has tried to reduce the uncertainty to an extent by committing to declare the results by 15th July 2020. However, there still exists a great deal of confusion and anxiety among students regarding their path ahead.
Option for re-examination at a later date: A cliff-hanger again?
The primary reason for anxiety in students was the uncertainty of exams per se and the timing. Even during the first lockdown, students continued to focus on their studies in anticipation of the examinations to be conducted in April. The same happened when the notification was released regarding the conduct of examinations from 1st July, which was subsequently cancelled.
Though CBSE has declared that no re-examinations will be conducted for Class X students, a provision of optional re-examination for Class XII students is included in the notification approved by the Supreme Court. A somewhat uncertain provision reads inter alia to the effect that the re-examination dates will be decided when the situation becomes ‘conducive.’ Keeping in mind the current situation in India, with around five lakh positive COVID-19 cases and approximately more than fifteen thousand deaths any expectation of a downward spiral in cases is a distant dream for now. In these circumstances, although the provision for re-examination may offer some reprieve for students who may not be happy with the results to be declared on 15th July, the fact that CBSE at a later date may and can cancel the examinations is a cliff-hanger and remains a suspenseful situation for students.
Further, even though Class XII students are being offered the option to appeal their grades or to take an exam as soon as possible if they are not satisfied with what they have been awarded, the entire process will be cumbersome, disconcerting and convoluted as many of their peers are likely to have embarked on the next chapter of their educational lives by then.
The prime question that follows is whether Universities will consider the subsequent marks of the re-examinations in their admission process. Most students rely upon their Board results for admissions in India’s premier academic institutions such as the Delhi University, which in all probability, will announce its cut-offs by August 2020, going as high as 97% for a few courses. A re-examination provision would be futile if the same bears no importance and relevance for the admissions.
ICSE has declared that it will be following the footsteps of CBSE in cancellation of exams. However, the evaluation scheme would be different. These students are yet to receive clarification regarding the procedure that will follow.
Viewing this situation at a micro level does reveal some gaps and flaws. However, with the unprecedented uncertainties that 2020 has brought with it, we all need to adjust, adapt, and overcome, and only this mindset will allow us to move forward positively. Therefore, if one views the decision of CBSE with a macro perspective, the cancellation of the examinations was the need of the hour. This situation should be seen as a chance and opportunity for schools, colleges, and universities to carefully examine the fairness and transparency of their admissions and evaluation procedures, so that post the pandemic, practices are more equitable and just. They can embrace a more simplified system with new and creative ways to assess students. In every crisis, there is an opportunity and going forward college admissions are going to look a lot different.
Adityaraj Patodia and Ramayni Sood are students at Amity Law School, Delhi (GGSIPU).