Imagine this scenario: it is the month of May, the heat unbearable, humidity high. It is the annual holiday time but there is an exam going on. The classroom where the exam is being held does not have a fan, and those who are answering are as young as 15 and 16 years old, sitting for their first public exam and they are wearing masks that cover their nose and mouth, and so are the supervisors. There are no known faces in the exam hall as due to social distancing the number of students in each classroom are few. The parents are not allowed close to the exam centre and the child has to go alone to the hall. Now, that is not an imaginary or futuristic scene, but one that is scheduled to happen in Goa before the month ends.
Goa Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (GBSHSE) has announced the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exams on May 21 and the has issued guidelines that will mandate the use of masks, social distancing and parents beyond 200 metres of the exam centre. Is Goa Board and the Goa Government seriously considering holding the SSC examinations in these conditions? The examinations were postponed due to the COVID-19 lockdown. The lockdown – the third announced by the government will end on May 17. A day before the revised dates of the SSC exam were announced the governemnt had said that a decision would be taken after May 17, but very suddenly on May 6 the dates were released. Is there any guarantee that the nationwide lockdown won’t be extended for a longer period?
Look at what’s happening across the country. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Board will conduct Class 10 examinations in only the main subjects required for promotion and that could be crucial for admissions in higher educational institutions. Students of Class 10 of the CBSE Board will therefore answer Hindi, English, science and social science papers, and not the others. Andhra Pradesh has said that the SSC timetable will be announced two weeks after the lifting of the lockdown. At the Class XII level, CBSE willconduct exams for the remaining papers, but the dates for the entrance exams to professional courses have been postponed. NEET and JEE MAIN will now be held in July.
At the higer education level there has also been a restructuring of academic years. University Grants Commission has recommended that colleges begin their new academic year in August/September, with changes in the current semesters. Given the current situation in the country, it is very unlikely that schools in any State, including Goa, will reopen in June for the new academic year. The SSC exam leads to the higher secondary. Most students from Goa opt to continue with the Class XI and Class XII in the State itself. It is after the Class XII exams that the students opt for professional colleges that are spread across the country. The question therefore is: how important is the SSC exam for the next stage of education that the Goa Board has to conduct it in the midst of a pandemic?
The State needs to reconsider the SSC exam dates. It has a few options before it: either it schedules the exams at a latter date, in July or August by which time the pandemic should have settled; or has exams only for important subjects in the manner that the CBSE is doing; or it can revamp the admission procedure for Class XI whereby the students are absorbed in their stream of choice based on their performance during the year and the prelims.
Remember it is the same education board and the bulk of the students will not be going to a different State. If there are students taking admission elsewhere, surely some concession can be made as this pandemic has affected everyone.