Could there be a tougher dilemma for examination boards than this? Whether the school leaving certificate examination can be held in the middle of a pandemic that is devastating lives so much so that field hospitals have had to be put up on airport grounds. These are unheard of, unseen circumstances – and require brave and caring leadership to take the right decision in favour of the students.

The question here is marks or lives, it is as stark as that. The XIIth exam has been used as a filter for progress for the past many years, a misuse, possibly, because it’s core task is to progress students into higher education of choice, not to become a selection barrier or hurdle. In trying to exceed its remit, either out of goodwill, or seeking purpose beyond mere marks, the exam boards are now trapped. On their own, they may respond as they should, but having being dumped the responsibility of the ‘future’ of students, they are burdened with what is not theirs to carry anyway. The future of students is the selector’s responsibility, and we will list many safe and conservative options later. The responsibility of the boards is safe and equitable exams, if possible.

If examinations cannot be safe or equitable, they cannot meet the key criterion that all assessments must meet: of being Reliable, Valid, Fair, Timely and accurate. The discussions of truncated examinations do not meet the standard of good assessments anyway. (Refer previous blog post).

(Deleted 3 paragraphs of calculations showcasing only 1 student per room is safe, and for every 8 students who clear college, 1 hospital bed will be required to be ready now – separate post for that after validating calculations)

But the key thing is, we do NOT need the class XII exam to progress the students to Higher Education. There are other ways that will work for Universities and colleges. First, let us acknowledge that all universities are not oversubscribed, so it is only the ‘popular’ ones with the ugly 100% cutoff stress race that plays out (As if we need more stress in the pandemic, but I am not even talking about how much on the edge we are as students and educators). For the universities that need to select, here are 4 very conservative options:

(i) Consider the average of the past 3 years marks in the subject. Consistent performance, performance spikes, board exams (class 10), and internal teacher feedback are all combined in this. Since the schools have been run in accordance with your circulars and under your supervision, dear boards, I am sure you trust your own governance systems. This does away of the evil of the performance of a specific 3 hours in 1 exam determining a student’s life and is actually more fair.

(ii) Colleges can give conditional admission subject to students passing the first semester. There is enough precedence for this for decades, and college principals know how to handle this well.

(iii) Do a phone viva and interview for college aspirants. This is not an online exam, but will use the same resources that a college will use to teach, and is completely in line with their engagement capacity.

(iv) Give only online admission to students for now, and as students demonstrate their ability, award them an online or full degree, as deemed appropriate in future years, when conditions improve.

(v) The NEP now encourages a 4 year college degree. Add an extra year to assess and prepare students – hereby also dealing with the constant complaint of HE educators that students are not ready even after class XII exams. All these years, the class XII exams have not been adequate in their assessment anyway, nor do they wholly reflect future professional performance. It is time we give respect to these views too, and not pressurize our examination boards, and students.

These are unprecedented times, I repeat myself, and we must forgive ourselves for being human and having a humane response – and a technically sound response to a human interaction with a system that has been called for overhaul anyway with the New Education Policy already adopted by the Government. Let us respect the new policy, and pause this exam, and reboot for a better assessment world.

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