The pandemic has put a lot of things in perspective. As a student, it’s hard to deal with the stress of ambiguity that lies in the future. The youth of the country, who are at the last step of uncovering their career, are the ones that took the brunt due to the Novel Coronavirus. Many educational institutions, like Amity University, Bharati Vidyapeeth University (Pune), and others mainly in States like Kerala, Delhi, Mumbai, etc. announced shut down even before the proclamation of lockdown due to the steady increase in the number of cases. In India, there are three major categories of education, viz. Primary, Secondary, and graduate:
PRIMARY AND SCHOOL EDCUCATION
“If a physical school is for three hours, they run a virtual school for three hours, too. It does not work that way. For this age group, ideally, you need to have 60 minutes’ video chats with them. Serve-and-return interactions are important. When they watch television, it is a one-way communication, but when they have a teacher on the screen, and she is talking and asking them to sing together, it becomes a two-way communication.” says Swati Popat Vats, an author and early education expert.
|The concerns of the parents of children below the age of 10 have massively increased as they are skeptical of their toddlers to be spending a significant amount of time in front of the screen. While government and non- government organisations and edtech companies are trying their best to support and facilitate the transition to the virtual world, The Central government has recently launched the PM e-VIDYA platform, with 12 new DTH channels, one for each class to reach out to all strata’s of society. The problem pertaining to the overall development of the child still haunts the parents. The parents of toddlers who are working find it hard to manage work and their children’s online classes. Some have even considered not enrolling their kids for online learning as the kids are becoming more impatient and violent. Moreover, according to author and educator Kamala Mukunda, the biggest loss for a three or four-year-old is lack of peer group to play with. The foundation of a good personality starts at this early stage and due to online schooling the children are inculcating habits that will make adjusting in a social environment difficult for them, habits inculcated at a young age shape the entire future of an individual. Imagination is what gets the children to adapt and form a relation to the concepts which is one of the key factors that is missing due to this transition. It won’t be wrong to conclude that while the government is trying their best to facilitate the children and their education, there is still a huge gap to be filled in order to overcome discrepancies|
Students affiliated with the Science stream were fortunate enough, for their last exam ended on March 17th, 2020, a few days prior to the imposition of the restraining orders. However, the other popular streams, viz. Commerce and Humanities, will have to wait until the relaxation of the orders passed.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) announced that pending examinations would be held from 1st to 15th July 2020 and the timetable for the same was released along with the guidelines that were prescribed to the students while appearing for the exams. This caused apprehension among the students as the COVID cases by then had raised.
The students were able to breathe a sigh of relief on 25th June 2020 when the CBSE issued a formal notice stating that the pending exams of class X and XII were scheduled to be conducted from 1st to 15th July 2020 were cancelled.
This came after a plea which was filed by parents of the students appearing for the concurrent exams in the Supreme Court requesting to scrape off the remaining examinations and marks should be granted based on the internal assessments of the subjects that the students had not appeared for. Subsequently, the Supreme Court on 17th June, 2020 asked CBSE to analyze whether the exams can be cancelled and the students can be assessed on internal assessment. Followed by this the CBSE issued the notice cancelling the exams.
However, the board stated that it will conduct an optional examination of class XII from 1st to 15th July 2020 for those subjects whose examinations were to be conducted as soon as the conditions were conducive. Candidates were allowed to appear for these examinations if they wished to improve their results. The result of these examinations would be treated as final.
Finally, it was decided that for students who have appeared for more than 3 subjects their marks for the remaining subjects shall be based on the average marks obtained in the best 3 subjects. Students who could only appear in 3 subjects, their remaining assessment would be done based on the best two attempted examinations.
Lastly, for students of Delhi who weren’t able to give more than 1 first due to the riots that shook Delhi followed by the pandemic, their final result will be determined based on the given examination and their internal examinations. These students were also allowed to appear for the optional examinations if they so desired, but their result was announced with the rest of the batch.
HIGHER EDUCATION (Under-Graduate and Post-Graduate courses)
The precipitous imposition of lockdown orders did not give much time to the general public and the students of Universities and colleges to react. With this nationwide shutdown came ambiguity. Studies and other activities such as internships, fellowships etc. got disrupted and the status of examinations for the year-end was undetermined.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) which is the statutory body made under the UGC Act, 1956, under the ministry of education is in charge of coordination, determination and maintenance of the standard of university education in India.
The examination concerns were referred to the UGC, in hopes of getting some clarity as this is an unprecedented scenario. Subsequently, on the 17th April 2020 UGC issued a letter in reference to “Issues regarding Examinations and Academic Calendar”. In this letter, it was announced that an Expert Committee was to deliberate on the issues related to examinations and academic calendar and submit its recommendation.
Following this announcement, another circular was released which mentioned that two committees will be set up to tackle the issue of education amidst the pandemic. The first committee which was chaired by Prof. R.C. Kuhad, a former member of UGC and the Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Haryana, was assessing the issue of examinations and the upcoming academic calendar.
Whereas, the second committee chaired by Prof. Nagendra Rao (Vice-Chancellor of Indira Gandhi National Open University) was looking into the matter of promoting online education. Both the committees submitted their reports on 24th April 2020.
Based on the report submitted by the committees appointed by the UGC, it was concluded that examinations shall be conducted by the respective universities and colleges as they deem fit in wake of the pandemic. The UGC provided certain guidelines and suggested various modes in which a university can conduct examinations.
With the announcement of examinations, the UGC also promoted the concept of online teaching and learning process and asked the universities and colleges to conduct online lectures in order to ensure that education of the students is not compromised.
The following issues were faced by the students due to the shift from offline to online education:
- POOR CONNECTIVITY
Not all students were equipped with the required technology to attend the online classes which were provided by the universities. A majority of students in Government universities come from a rural background. Such students are not very well-versed with technology. Moreover, connectivity issues make their plight worse. Thus, this shifting of the education system makes it uncomfortable for students.
- UNFAVOURABLE ENVIRONMENT
Another major concern of the students is the unfavourable study environment. Being locked in their homes with no practical knowledge being imparted due to lack of classroom studies has adversely affected the overall experience of education, thus making it monotonous and mundane.
- MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
With uncertainty about their future and the added stress of the online classes and examinations, a lot of students have complained about suffering from anxiety, depression, sleepiness, and a sense of hopelessness. However, the UGC has asked the universities to take all measures necessary to help and take care of the mental health of the student body as well as that of faculty members.
- UNAVAILABILITY OF STUDY MATERIAL
The non-availability of textbooks and other study materials have also made it difficult for the students to focus, concentrate and keep up with the studies in the online classes. Moreover, it may be easy to find study material for English medium students but for the students who study in their vernacular language, it becomes difficult for them to gather such material.
STUDENTS VERSUS EXAMINATION
As the turmoil of the Coronavirus took the nation for a spin, the battle of students continued. With the central government announcing the cancellation of exams and promotion for students who were not in their final year to the ongoing pursuit of final year students to fight the system, it has been a long tedious journey.
- OPEN BOOK TEST
The very first hurdle was the ‘Open Book Examinations’ (OBEs) that were conducted by the Delhi University (DU). On 16th May 2020, DU released a notification stating that the examination for final year students would be conducted from 1st July 2020 by the mode of Open Book Examination. The guidelines for the same were issued by the university along with the notification of setting up a grievance department to facilitate the students with every query and questions they have regarding the OBE. Subsequently, three students of DU filed a petition against the declaration of examination on the ground stating that it is discriminatory and biased. The students from well-off economic backgrounds will have an edge over economically backward students. The quality and availability of technology will give the students access to better technology, an edge over the others. Hence, they demanded that the university shouldn’t conduct online examinations. However, the court kept in mind the number of preparations done by the students for the online examinations and hence, only the manner in which OBE could be conducted more practically was looked into.
The examination for DU final year students was conducted as a result of this decision and the students faced a lot of glitches, while some students weren’t able to upload their answer sheets properly, for some the poor connectivity was the reason for their stress. To add to this the University uploaded the question paper of Modern Political Philosophy which turned out to be a previous paper used in Mock examinations. Overall the OBE was a lost cause.
- ENTRANCE EXAMINATION
The entrance examinations for Under Graduate courses were scheduled to be conducted in the month of May 2020 for the students of class XII. However, they were postponed, and were decided to be held in September due to the COVID outbreak. Given that the COVID-19 cases in India are rapidly increasing with the country becoming the first one to register 80,000 cases in a day, the students have to deal with the added pressure of entrance examinations as the government has refused to postpone it any further.
While some exams like CLAT, BITSAT have been postponed at the request of the students and the current situation prevailing, exams like VITEEE, SRMJEE have been cancelled. In addition to this, some private universities have taken online entrance examinations of the students from their respective homes. Yet universities like DU failed to make use of an online platform and are sticking to offline entrance exams. NEET, JEE (mains), DUET are amongst the few exams that the National Test Agency (NTA) is set to conduct in the month of September. The NTA released guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on 3rd July to be followed while conducting the examinations.
A wave of discontentment and dissatisfaction arose amongst the students as they urged the NTA to postpone the exams given the plethora of issues being faced. On 17th August, the Supreme Court dismissed the plea for postponing these exams, followed by which students launched various social media campaigns. Some even went on a day-long Hunger Strike as a symbol of disagreement.
However, the JEE entrances commenced from the 1st of September and are scheduled to happen for 6 days, i.e., till 6th September. Keeping in view the grievances of the students and to make the environment more conducive the following changes in the examination pattern have been made:
- The numbers of centres have been increased by the NTA, keeping in mind the transport issues that might be faced by the students. Due to transportation difficulties, some states have decided to provide free transportation to the students. Railways in Mumbai allowed students and their guardians to travel by special suburban trains on exam days. States like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have also announced that they will provide to and forth transportation services to the students.
- All the centres will be thoroughly sanitized before the exams. Masks, gloves, sanitizers etc. will be provided at the examination centres.
- The rule made by the Government stating that there shall be a gap of a minimum of two seats will be maintained.
- In addition to this, exams will be conducted in two shifts to ensure the safety of the students and ahead of every shift, all the seats and the systems will be thoroughly sanitized.
Even though these protocols put the minds at ease to some extent, one cannot deny that the danger of the situation in terms of COVID going worse, still persists.
Approximately, 8, 00,000 students have applied for the JEE mains examinations 2020. The examination consists of two papers. Paper 1 is for aspirants of BTech / BE examinations and Paper is of BArch/B Planning.
Every year the attendance of the student is approximately 85-90% as this is the main paper for engineering aspirants. On the contrary, this year the student attendance fall in for the second paper was comparatively lower than in previous years. Moreover, the student’s turn out for Paper 1 has been majorly unaffected.
The education system in India is facing a transitional phase. There are a lot of hit and trial methods being used and even as these methods do not always work efficiently, but all the agencies responsible are trying their best to keep the process in action albeit the pressure created by the pandemic breakthrough.
 Central board of secondary education, “NOTIFICATION REGARDING CANCELLATION OF BOARD EXAMS JULY 2020”, June 25th, 2020, Central board of secondary education (https://cbse.nic.in/).. https://cbse.nic.in/newsite/attach/Notification%20dt.%2025.06.2020.pdf [last visited on September 7th, 2020]
 University Grants Commission, “Issues related to examination and academic calendar”, 17th April, 2020. https://www.ugc.ac.in/pdfnews/2611352_Letter—Issues-related-to-examinations-and-academic-calendar.pdf
 University Grants Commission, “Examination & Academic Calendar”, July 6th, 2020. https://www.ugc.ac.in/pdfnews/6100894_UGC-Revised-Guidelines-on-Examinations-and-Academic-Calendar-for-the-Universities-in-view-of-COVID-19-Pandemic_06_07_2020.pdf