The board exams at the end of schooling years are a rite of passage. A torturous experience, an act of growing up and claiming one’s space in the world – because one’s space depends upon one’s marks. The school leaving grade, the graduation to the grown up world and the certification of basic ability that enables one to seek specialisation all come with this exam.
And yet, all examinations have some basic rules. First, they have to be fair to all candidates – this is the golden rule. For this to happen, the assumption is a normal school year, calm conditions to prepare and safe spaces to take the exam. None of these hold true today. There is nothing to gain from holding the class 12 examinations under these circumstances. The pandemic rages in a cataclysmic manner, and almost every family in the capital city and many others is running pillar to post for survival. No student, whether directly impacted or not, could watch the fires of our times and be in a state to focus on work, to do well in exams. Being disturbed is normal for now, but is not conducive to a normal examination. The only students who may be able to be productive would be those who suffer from some type of apathy, the rest of us are all affected.
A more practical risk, especially at a time when contagion rates are raging at 30-40% is that the examination itself could be a super spreader, however well it is organised. We hear reports of teachers who were drafted for some Panchayat elections who suffered and succumbed to the pandemic. The class 12 exam will not be excepted from the wrath of the virus. It does not understand virtues, or purpose, it seeks contagion.
The other basic rules of assessment are that they must be valid, relevant, accurate and timely. In the middle of the worst of the pandemic, a high stakes test is certainly not going to hold to the standard of ‘valid’. Any replication sample at another time will surely diverge from this test taken under hugely distressing circumstances. The relevance of assessment is not based on a single test taken in three hours – it would be much more relevant to assess the portfolio of work product created by the student during the year, or work on the pre-board scores that have already been taken by the schools. There are many other innovative options, or composite options that can be used, though in this chaos, it would be best to keep it simple.
The accuracy of this examination depends upon its administration. One look at every organisation around us today will tell us that the illness is leaving everyone short staffed at almost no notice. People are coping but there is little accuracy left even in emergency grocery or medicine deliveries. If the supply chains of so much has broken down, there is no reason to assume that the supply chain of the examination can remain smoothly operational. There can be no guarantee that even students make it to the exam, let alone invigilators and so on.
Timely, they say is another key pillar of assessment. The exams have already been postponed. Students are now preoccupied with learning how to survive in life, learning how to cope with news of horrors near and far. They are learning how to cope with sorrow, to comfort near and dear, to step up and volunteer, to serve. To save, to savour life itself, while helping another. To overcome fear, to know dread and find in themselves the resilience to go on. Our students are learning other things that are more timely than any curriculum based examination can even imagine.
These are hugely exceptional circumstances, and we must concede to reason in the face of such an onslaught. A wise person battens down the hatches in the face of a storm and goes underground. It is time to do the same with the class 12 examination now, so that we emerge safe to assess and be assessed by examination another day, another year, when things are better.