THE RECENT decision by India’s Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to cancel the XII board exams has caused both relief and concern among students and parents – relief because students don’t have to go to schools for exams at the time of a raging pandemic, and concern at the uncertainty which follows this decision because students and teachers have no idea until now about how the board would decide the marks, and more importantly, when it will be done.
The way the CBSE has handled the whole issue raises several questions. Why did they take so long to cancel the exams considering that the second wave has started a couple of months ago? Why didn’t they think of an assessment plan before announcing the cancellation? When do they hope to complete the process of assessment? The more questions we ask, the more complicated it gets. And, more stress for students and parents.
The CBSE is a gargantuan institution, to say the least. It’s the world’s biggest educational body in whose hands remains the fate of millions of Indian students. Size is often considered an advantage, but not when it comes to governance and administration.
The CBSE is handling too much. We are living in a world where decentralisation is considered a key principle of management, and where micromanagement is considered a key strength. But CBSE is yet to realise the importance of these principles, which is a reason for worry. Since it’s a centralized body, it is afflicted with all ills that come with centralization. Whenever there is a global crisis, the CBSE is affected. And, when the CBSE is affected, millions of students, parents and teachers are affected.
So, the first thing the CBSE needs to do is to decentralize, and delegate. This will solve half the problems, or make them disappear.
Secondly, CBSE needs to have a crisis management plan, or ready-made solutions for recurring emergencies. Look at how other international educational bodies like the IGCSE and IB have handled the pandemic; they did it remarkably well, without any noise and anyone noticing it, minimizing the damage. They planned in advance, learnt from previous experiences, and took the various stakeholders into confidence. It was a smooth sail.
But in India, for the past two years, the education system has been going through severe stress. The issue has even gone to courts, with the Supreme Court and the high courts hearing the case, which is proof of the lack of homework and planning by the government and the CBSE.
Not only educational bodies, every international institution has a crisis management plan. For example, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has specific rules and systems for every emergency, like how to decide a winner if the match is disrupted by rain. If sports bodies have such well-defined rules, it’s surprising and disappointing an educational body like CBSE doesn’t have them.
There are other serious issues. The decision to cancel the board exams was taken at a meeting chaired by our prime minister. Does this issue require the intervention of a prime minister? Not at all. Covid-19 has been an international problem, a global pandemic, and there is no country which hasn’t been affected. But has the education system of those countries suffered so much damage?
Gulf students affected
Unfortunately, Indian students in the Gulf are the worst victims of all these problems. Many students here are planning to join foreign universities for higher studies, where admissions for undergraduate courses start from May and close by August. There is no doubt that many of our students will lose golden opportunities. The CBSE has only cancelled the exams, and the entire process of assessment now lies ahead, about which there is no clarity.
The problems for Gulf students could have been avoided if the CBSE had planned separately for Gulf students. The system of sending answer sheets to India for evaluation should be scrapped and evaluation needs to be done in the Gulf under the supervision of embassies. The CBSE had started the system around three decades ago when there were just a few Indian schools in the Gulf, whereas now there are hundreds of schools and lakhs of students.
Students in the Gulf preparing for NEET and other competitive exams are again going through severe stress. Last year, around half the applicants from the Gulf couldn’t attend the NEET exams because there was no centre in the Gulf and students couldn’t travel to India due to Covid-19.
This year, too, we are heading towards a similar situation. The National Testing Agency (NTA) in India announced the test date for the 2021 NEET exam in August, but there has been no clarity about the test centres. It will be an unforgivable crime if students are made to go through the same problems this year, too. It will be a violation of their basic educational and human rights.
The CBSE must learn from its previous experiences and plan for the future, or learn from international educational bodies. Pandemics are here to say, and even if Covid-19 disappears, something else might come or this could re-emerge. What is important is preparedness and clear planning. And that can help avoid disruptions and disappointment.
Our students and parents are going through enormous stress and trauma due to the current uncertainties which could have been easily avoided.
It’s better late than never. The CBSE must go for an introspection, and reform its system. Let’s hope, within a few years, we will have an efficient and effective system that won’t create a need for us to go to courts.
(The author is Director of Brilliant Group of Institutions in Qatar).
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