UNDOUBTEDLY, the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India has inundated all with anxiety to the extent that the realization of normal activities appears a dream. The fear psychosis inculcated from the past and forecast of the third wave is dominating all spheres of life, including the education system. It is more than a year since the education system started experimenting with the teaching, learning, examination, and evaluation processes at primary, secondary, and tertiary education levels. Among various decisions of scrapping the final examinations taken to date, the cardinal one happens to be the scrapping of class 12 examinations, especially in a country where the board examinations of class 10 and 12 have been sacrosanct since time immemorial.
The students calling for no examinations time and again with support for such call from different quarters points to the permeating examination hesitancy in them. Because the practice of no examination has been infrequent in the Indian education system as the evidence of examinations being essentially held despite academic sessions getting delayed are in abundance. The tendency of skipping examination betokens a precarious situation of students evading their learning assessments and marching ahead without formal examination.
Saying no to examinations in the present setup with partial or full dependence on the end-of-course examinations inexorably warrants introspection especially in classes for which certificates are issued by examining boards or universities.
Practice of student learning assessment
It is worth mentioning that the prevailing practice of centralized examination for student learning assessments emanates from the intent to have uniformity and fairness in the assessment processes while eliminating chances of institution-centric subjectivity. Philosophically, there is no issue with the education institutions evaluating the learning levels of their students for the award of final mark sheets/certificates as the teaching-learning processes are carried out by these institutions. But this may require requisite statutory provisions, preparedness of the institutions, and recognition so that every school/institution acts like a board/university and awards its mark sheets and certificates with global validity.
Thus the practice of promoting students without examinations in the last two academic sessions transfers the sole responsibility of student learning on the institutions i.e. the rigour with which the teaching-learning processes have been carried out.
Reasoning examination hesitancy
The lapses in the online teaching activities due to limited resources and digital divide with the students and teachers alike are quite known in the country. Despite recurrent proclamations of smooth conduction of online teaching-learning activities, the academics know the ground reality that the actual teaching-learning activities have not been up to the mark since the first closure of education institutions in March 2020. This seems to have shaken the confidence of students for undertaking end-of-course examinations and the instances of students calling for their progression to higher class without examination are conspicuous.
In fact, it owes to the panic caused by the first wave of COVID at the fag end of the last academic session, when the education came to a screeching halt and the alternatives were looked upon to keep the education process rolling. Given the completion of the majority of teaching-learning activities in off-line mode by March 2020 the students were assessed based on the continuous assessment carried out by institutions and students were promoted without examinations. But the session 2020-21 started in the online mode of teaching-learning activities with inherent limitations of lack of equity and access to all. The dreadful second wave of COVID acted like icing on the cake. Consequentially, students appeared to have been dismayed by the policy of offline examination.
Simultaneously, the questionable sanctity of online examinations and uncertainty in holding examinations in offline mode acted as a deterrent for the examination conducting bodies too.
Consequences of examination hesitancy
The capitulation of education regulating bodies to the no-examination impelled for evolving assessment methodologies, with the most apt one being a formative assessment like cumulative estimation based on the weighted average of marks obtained at different previous classes. Unequivocally, for the inconsistently performing students, the new model of assessment cannot be a true indicator of the capabilities possessed by students in the respective class and will not be credible as compared to end-of-course examination outcome practiced in past for that class.
The lesser credibility of marks awarded under such circumstances of no-examination will compel such students for series oftest(s) to put them in order of merit as their marks of respective class do not speak of their course-specific actual learning and capabilities.
Thence, the students of the class of 2021 may have a life-long notional discriminator of marks without class-specific examination attached to their mark sheets/certificates that may gain prominence after the pandemic passes over.
Unless the academic framework is not put in place for realizing the formative assessment, any loss in the credibility of mark sheets/certificates may have long-term implications of lessening the sanctity of examinations.
The impacts of alternatives worked out as a substitute for end-of-course examination-based results will be evinced on all students, nevertheless, the meritorious ones may feel the greater pinch of it.
Also, the absence of examinations creates a strong perception of these being bootless and emboldens students for skipping the classes which will inevitably converge into lesser competence of so called educated ones.
In addition to this, the education regulators succumbing to the pressure of no examination will set wrong precedencesthat could be ingeminated in the future.
Overcoming examination hesitancy
Considering the lack of an alternative worthwhile student learning assessment framework, it is pertinent to brood upon the fast pervading examination hesitancy in the students emanating primarily from their learning insufficiency.
The academics of the country has to collectively ponder upon the following as measures for overcoming examination hesitancy.
- Ensuring adequacy of teaching-learning processes whether in online or offline mode by facilitating the students and teachers with requisite resources suitably so that the challenges posed by the digital divide, socio-economic conditions, etc. do not affect the access and equity in any way.
- Not holding examinations without proper teaching of the complete course and ascertain that no one is deprived of learning opportunities.
- Create, establish, and execute the foolproof digital framework for formative assessment throughout the academic session so that the learning assessment of students is carried out incessantly during teaching and thus make the end-of-course examinations inutile.
- Till the alternative to the present examination-evaluation model is not in place, make the holding of end-of-course examination inexorable.
- Evolve legitimate framework for online examination and assessment for meeting out exigencies with requisite infrastructure.
- The delays in sustaining academic sessions be accommodated by remodeling the academic activities without sacrificing the rigour involved in them.
- Educating the stakeholders about the consequences of no-examinations and counseling students and parents for not pressing the demand of no-examination.
With the examination hesitancy continuing in the second academic session, it is pertinent for the regulators and academic community to contemplate and find the way forward to dissuade all from any thinking to get rid of the end-of-course examinations.
Needless to say that the reluctance of students for appearing in offline mode of end-of-course examinations in the COVID period is not unfounded, but the better alternatives to the no-examination situation can always be worked out without affecting the credibility of marksheets.