On June 1, 2021, the government announced that the Class 12 CBSE Board exams stand cancelled. Considering the prevailing situation, this was the most logical decision. It would have been better if this decision was announced earlier. The ISCE Board followed soon. Here are the links to the notices on CBSE and ISCE websites. Since education is in the concurrent list, each state is empowered to take its own decision regarding conduct of Board exams. But it appears that other states may also cancel the Class 12 Board exams due to the uncertain conditions of covid-19, and the situation surrounding vaccination of youngsters. On June 3, 2021, the Maharashtra government also announced that cancellation of class 12 Board exam for 2021. Other states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Goa, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have taken the same decision.
CBSE will now take steps to compile the results of class XII students “as per well-defined objective criteria in a time-bound manner”. The most objective way of declaring the result is still being worked out.
Some students would have preferred to appear for the Board exam because they had been putting in all the time and energy into that preparation. The marks one gets due to one’s own efforts, hard work and intelligence bring about a satisfaction that is difficult to describe. So even after the cancellation there may be some students who desire to take the exams, and CBSE board will provide such an option to them, as and when the situation becomes conducive.
Now what are the alternatives for declaring results of class 12 and for admission to college/university courses? On what basis will students be admitted to universities? There are many suggestions, some from student community as well.
- Entrance Test: Conduct an entrance test for admission to degree courses. This entrance test could be online or offline. The problems with offline test remain the same; how will the safety of students, and teachers and exam administrators be taken care of? Many places are still under various degrees of lockdown and vaccine has till not reached everyone, especially students.
If on the other hand, an online entrance exam is planned, the question arises from where will students be able to give this online exam? Online exams from home cause proctoring issues while calling students to their schools for online may not be at all feasible due to availability of hardware and ofcourse, the same issue of students and teachers assembling in schools which must be avoided.
If entrance exams are conducted, they must be conducted for all streams like arts, science and commerce, and not just for science students. This will ensure a level planning field for all students.
- Online Interviews: One suggestion is to conduct online interviews. This is easier said than done. Online interviewing assumes availability of mobile devices, net connectivity in all parts of the country. The past year has shown that many students were left out of the education system because they (i) did not have the devices for online connection, (ii) a single device had to be shared by 2 or more children in a home, (iii) the device was being used by parents as they were also working from home and needed connectivity.
How much time will be needed to interview all students of class 12 in a school, how many teachers will be required? The interview will have to be well planned – it will have to be planned for the topics on which questions are asked, the time that student must be given to answer a question, the whole interview must be recorded for auditing purpose, in case there is a dispute. There must be a well-defined marking scheme for the interview – marks for how the student presents herself/himself, the confidence level in answering, language skills and will students be allowed to explain their answer through a diagram on paper which can be presented online? Students must be informed well in advance of the way the online interview will be conducted, at what time, on which subjects/topics, what is expected of them from the interview. If students do not know the rules of the interview technique in advance it will be extremely unfair to them. But the logistics of conducting an online interview are challenging.
- Letters of Reference (LOR) and Statement of Purpose (SOP): These are standard requirements for admission to universities abroad whether at undergraduate or graduate levels. A Letter of Reference is from the student’s teacher who may evaluate the student on various parameters such as scholastic ability, extracurricular activities, social values, etc. In our education system where a class can contain as many as 100+ students and there may be only 2 teachers teaching a subject, will it be feasible to give LORs to hundreds of students? Do teachers really know their students that well in such a large gathering that the LOR will be at all meaningful? Besides the pressure to give a “good” LOR will be too much and they are not worth the effort. CBSE or state Boards will have to provide a template for the LOR based on which marking can be done by teachers – it cannot be a freeform LOR where every teacher assesses students on different criteria.
A SOP is a document written by the student, explaining why he/she wishes to study a particular course at a particular college. If at all a Statement Of Purpose (SOP) is to be written by students, the question is this: how will the colleges receiving these SOPs evaluate them? How much time will be required to read and grade these SOPs? Is there enough manpower for that? Will student be permitted to write SOP in a language of his/her choice? What points should the student cover in SOP (besides “I am interested in this subject” or “I like this college”, etc)? Again, it will be better to provide a template to students covering the essential points. The SOP should not become a list of columns where students just enter their marks of various classes – their marksheets already reflect the marks. All these issues must be addressed and guidelines prepared for students and distributed to them.
- Considering results of classes 9, 10 and 11 for result of class 12: This is one of the mechanism being looked into. The problem with this method is that students of class 12 specialise in either science, arts or commerce but class 9 and 10 results are based on all subjects – science, maths, languages and humanities. So if at all class 9 and 10 marks are to be counted than it may be better to use marks of only science + math for science students, or languages + humanities for arts students, etc. Marks of class 11 will ofcourse have to be factored in. Pre-board exams results of class 12 can also be considered for declaring class 12 result but many schools may have not conducted these pre-boards.
Different state boards have different assessing standards. This may lead to widespread disparity in results. CBSE, ISCE and state boards must come up with a standard, uniform way of assessing students throughout the country. Many schools are strict in assessing students in class 11 and students are also spending more time in extracurricular activities. So class 11 result may bring down the average scores in some cases.
- What about students who plan to study Abroad after Class 12? The mechanism that is finally decided should ensure that the result given to students is acceptable by universities abroad. Also those results should be declared on time so that students applying for admission abroad do not miss out the application deadlines.
So is the stress removed? We can say that the stress has shifted from class 12 Board exams to entrance test (if any) and to the whole admission process. Each university will have to have its own entrance exams so students will have stress of the entrance exams. The stress is not over, unfortunately, for students, parents and teachers.
CBSE and various state boards will ofcourse find a solution in the interest of students.
The Way Forward: The problems faced in conducted exams in 2020 have also appeared in 2021. We must be optimistic of course, but what is the preparation we are making for conducting exams in 2021-22? What if this scenario is repeated in 2022? There is an urgent need to work on reforms in class 10 and 12 board exams. If there are periodic tests, semester-wise (term-wise) exams, practical exams, throughout the year than in case of uncertain circumstances, these internal marks can be used for declaring final results. Even otherwise, declaring students’ performance on the basis of one 3 hour exam at the end of the year is unfair. Education takes place over a period of time, in small chunks. A student studies throughout the year and so if exams are conducted at regular intervals throughout the year, it will reduce the load on students and produce more meaningful results. Going forward, why not give the student the option where either his entire year’s performance is counted for declaring the class 12 result or only his final Board exam marks are used for that purpose? This may relieve students of exam anxiety.
I would like to point out one system of internal assessment used in class 11. In this system, a student appears for 5 exams throughout the year. Typically, it will be (for each subject) – (i) a class test of 25 marks (1 hour) in Term 1, this could be based on MCQ also, (ii) a 50 mark terminal 1 exam of 2 hours (Term 1), (iii) a class test of 25 marks (1 hour) in Term 2, (iv) a year end exam of 80 marks (3 hours), and (v) a practical exam of 20 marks. Class tests could be replaced with home assignments, projects, presentations, oral exam, etc, depending on the subject. So the total marks out of 200 are calculated and an average out of 35 is given. The benefit of this system is that the student is not under stress to prepare for a single exam. A student may not do well one exam but can make up for that in another exam. This method also becomes useful if a student is absent for an exam due to ill health or other personal reasons.
Winston Churchill is credited with first saying ““Never let a good crisis go to waste”. Let us use this situation to think of ways to improve the entire education system and the examination system. I separate the two because in the present circumstances, both appear separated, but exams should be just a part of the education process. Let us use this crisis. And it is essential to take feedback from students, parents and teachers. With cloud computing there is no shortage of tools to collect information, opinions and suggestions from all stakeholders – students, parents and teachers. Let us atleast start with that process for now.
- NIOS has announced that the class 12 exam is cancelled. Here is the notification. (5/6/2021)