The scrapping of CBSE class 12 board examinations on the first day of June in 2021 has made it a historical day in the school education of India. Unequivocally, the decision brought an end to the disquietude caused by the buzz on account of exam or no exam debate in the terminal class of formal school education. The catastrophic second wave of COVID-19 incurring a huge loss of life primarily due to unpreparedness of the healthcare system unsettled the whole country and impacted the education sector severely.
Given the school education being catered separately by states, the disruptions in the education system were tholed differently by each state through the online classes, online examinations, and pen-paper examinations during the opening for a short stint since March 24, 2020. The decisions taken for promoting the students to upper classes without examinations became a new normal. However, it was not enforced uniformly in all examinations.
Accolades to the regulatory bodies for sustaining the massive pressure of no-examinations in the last academic session 2019-20 and continuing with the long pervading practice of the proper pen-paper examinations at least for the terminal classes i.e. the classes for which certificate, diploma, degree is issued with statutory validity and acceptance across the world. In hindsight, the end-of-course summative assessment was inevitable in the absence of a credible and foolproof formative assessment system for evaluating student learning.
Surprisingly, even with the delayed commencement of the current academic session 2020-21 in online mode, the model of evaluating learning level in respective classes was not amended and the need for end-of-course, final examination continued like those in pre-pandemic times. Consequently, the examination boards announced their end-of-course final examinations starting from the beginning of the year 2021. The smart examination board like that of Bihar completed their class 10 & 12 board examinations in the first quarter of 2021 and declared results for class 12 and class 10 on March 26, 2021, and April 05, 2021, respectively while the majority of state examination boards, CBSE, and ICSE could not hold board examinations for these classes.
The decision to cancel class 10 examinations by CBSE in the mid of April 2021 when the pandemic was at its peak, triggered the debate for examination or no examination in class 12 too. The majority of states reeling under lockdowns or corona curfews compelled the respective examination boards to cancel class 10 examinations and reschedule their class 12 examinations, however, the CBSE continued with discussions with stakeholders on the model & feasibility of examination before arriving at a final decision. The Chhattisgarh board announced a novel model of open book examination for its class 12 students commencing from June 1, 2021, nevertheless, this started debate about the fairness of the assessment.
Looking back at the chronology of the events, it is apparent that except Delhi state which called for vaccination of class 12 students before examination or its cancellation, the majority of state boards and CBSE continued with their will to hold class 12 examinations, maybe in a different format and at the time when COVID gets controlled. The stakeholders were divided on the models prepared by CBSE for holding examinations and the arguments of not adapting the alternative mode of examination as it would not do justice were also heard. But, the intent of cancellation of class 12 examinations was not evident till the apex meeting was held for taking a final call on the issue on June 1, 2021.
Now, with the cancellation of class 12 examinations of CBSE, the state examination boards are under the obligation of revisiting their proclamations of holding class 12 examinations. The decision of cancellation of class 12 examinations is said to have come with a caveat that CBSE will be evolving methodology for declaring class 12 results on the basis of some objective criteria with the provision for the interested ones to appear in these examinations at later dates, howbeit the final framework for it is awaited from the CBSE.
Undoubtedly, there are reasons to welcome the cancellation due to fear created by COVID, but brooding on the implications of cancellations is not uncalled for. With the unprecedented call of cancellation of the apex board examination of class 12 in the Indian schooling system, the concerned students and their parents will have a series of questions that may make them anxious again. The academic community could also have divided opinions on the issue. But the fact remains that the sanctity of learning assessment and award of pass certificates with certain marks/grades by the examination boards based on methodology getting evolved now after the classes are over is questionable.
First, the fairness and integrity of internal examinations held in schools across the country in classes 11 and 12 are not infallible. The biases of school teachers towards students on account of different considerations cannot be purged out of student minds. Also, in the majority of cases, the shifted focus of class 11-12 students towards competitive examinations like JEE, NEET, CLAT, etc. pushes them to ignore school internal examinations, which are likely to leave a permanent imprint on their class 12 certificate now in the changed circumstances.
Second, the fairness of school examination assessment in case of the students who merely get registered in school in class 11-12 for appearing in final board examination i.e. dummy schools may be difficult to ascertain.
Third, the difficulty may also be felt in compiling the internal assessments in case of the students changing schools in between classes 11 and 12.
Fourth, the variance in school assessments like liberal, moderate, and strict award of marks is likely to land up in a situation where marks are not a true indicator of learning levels and the credibility of marks in pass certificates gets lost. Preparing inter-se-merit based on the school evaluation system will be an arduous task for the higher education institutions in granting admissions.
Fifth, the grant of autonomy to schools to assess their students without accrediting their capabilities for doing so may not augur well with all students, and the students toiling hard to prove their academic capabilities may not get justice.
Apart from the above, these pass certificates of the present class 12 students that will be issued without common public examination of the respective boards, will not be comparable to those issued after proper public examinations in the past and future.
At present, with the centre scrapping the CBSE examination of class 12, the state boards need to ponder upon its implications in the context of the lockdown and pandemic in their territory, integrity of schools, education and evaluation pattern followed by schools in the past two years, and demography. The out of the ordinary decision of cancelling CBSE examinations burdens it with the onerous responsibility of redrafting the evaluation strategy that is fair, transparent, and realistic so that none of the students feel the pinch of pandemic across his/her life.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)