The CBSE Class XII exam has been cancelled, but the Centre must act to secure education
Several anxieties faced by students, parents and schools have been calmed by the decision to cancel the Central Board of Secondary Education Class XII examination following a review by the Centre. Shaken by the carnage wrought by the second wave of the pandemic, the Government had little choice but to act against possible fresh clusters of infection, although that will mean considerably limited opportunities for students. Hopes for predictability in 2021, after the traumatic experience of students all through last year, have been dashed by the emergence of the double mutant variant of the coronavirus that has spread far and wide because of superspreader events. The Government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were obviously anxious to be seen as acting decisively on the examination question, after a long phase of dithering in formulating a national response. The decision to cancel the crucial Class XII public examination and replace it with an objective assessment for certification will help boards of education in the States to move in the same direction. Some pointers to an assessment scheme can be found in the CBSE’s submission to the Supreme Court last year, when the pandemic prevented the completion of Class XII examinations: for students who could not take the examination, as in Delhi, the internal, practical, and project assessment was proposed as a proxy to arrive at results, with an option to improve performance at a subsequent examination. The Board must now come up with a model scientific scheme.
The decision to cancel the examination in 2021 may have resolved a prickly issue, but the question of national entrance examinations — such as NEET and JEE — need to be addressed. Importantly, the Centre must recognise that major factors such as non-availability of enough vaccine doses, absence of a systematic vaccine coverage plan, and poor understanding of where virus variants are spreading, contributed to the second wave, and may, in fact, cause a third. For instance, there is better comprehension in Britain of where the variant of concern initially isolated from India, B.1.617.2, is spreading in that country because it has a robust genome sequencing programme. Such sharp insight, together with the availability of free and widespread testing, is crucial to stop waves of infections that threaten to hobble the country. The plight of students, which is engaging governments, has to become a top priority. Singapore has just approved mRNA vaccine coverage for children 12 years and older, just as the U.S. regulator FDA has for 12 to 15-year-olds. Britain has thought of 100 extra tuition hours for schools from 2022. There cannot be an interminable wait for vaccines to trickle down to all. The Centre must take responsibility to provide them to everyone, including students.
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