Govt must roll out digital solutions and ensure access to these
Given the recent spurt in Covid -19 infection across the country, CBSE deciding to scrap the plan to conduct the pending exams for Class X and Class XII decision is welcome. The Centre has told the Supreme Court that students who were appearing for their board exams under CBSE this year will be assessed on the basis of their performance in the subjects for which the exams had already been conducted before the lockdown. While the assessment for Class X will be final, those in Class XII can opt for sitting for the pending papers when the Board conducts the exam at a “more conducive” time. ICSE, the other prominent pan-India board, has also cancelled all pending exams, and will be soon announcing an assessment scheme. Meanwhile, the Union HRD ministry has also asked UGC to revisit its exam calendar released April 24, under which examinations for graduating students were to be held in July. Given the uncertainty over Covid-19—China, South Korea and New Zealand have reported second waves—it is hard to say when there will be a “conducive” time for classes and examinations as usual. Indeed, given the variation in spread and infection levels between, and within, states, a pan-India “conducive” time is hard to imagine.
With the foreseeable suspension of conventional classroom teaching for a large chunk of this academic year, and the backlog from the last academic year, the Centre and the states will quickly need to ensure that the current academic year isn’t lost across all levels of education. NCERT has already advised trimming of the syllabus by a third for the current academic year, and many private schools have rolled out online education for students. However, the gap in terms of online education infrastructure and access, apart from learning environment, for those in government schools and budget private schools seems like one that can’t be bridged meaningfully within the current school year. The Centre and the states have to start work on this right away if the future of these children is to be saved, else, the wasted year may cast a shadow well into their future. On the higher education front, the government did well to allow the top 100 universities to start online courses from May 30 onwards, but without the requisite infrastructure, this might just not take off. Then, there is the problem of assessment via online exams, but these can be tackled by deploying appropriate technological solutions, including AI. The bigger problem for tertiary education at the moment are current-year admissions that are already delayed. While the government reporting runaway success with its app for mock JEE-Mains & NEET holds promise for conducting the real tests online, for admission into other courses, digital SAT-like tests need to be considered, with appropriate tweaking for demonstration of competence in the chosen subjects. The government needs to work concertedly on digital solutions and ensuring access to these.