Grade 12 students settle down just before their CBSE Accountancy exam at Indian High School in Dubai (File image) Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

India’s decision on Tuesday to cancel grade 12 examinations over safety concerns is a pragmatic move given the logistical challenges at a time when the country is still reporting around 130,000 new Coronavirus cases every day.

Two pan-India school bodies – Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) – scrapped the examinations in separate announcements.

It is not immediately clear how many students will be impacted but in 2020, 1.2 million students appeared for CBSE grade 12 exams. On April 14, when the second wave of the virus was killing thousands daily, the two boards had scrapped grade 10 examinations.

Tuesday’s announcement is also likely to influence education boards of Indian states where the examinations are due. The states of Madhya Pradesh and Haryana scrapped the exams on Wednesday and Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and other states are expected to decide soon.

Criteria for tabulating results

Following the cancellations, the next big challenge is to come up with a grading system that upholds integrity of school-leaving certificates and appreciates merit. This will be tricky as the boards rely only one final exam to judge students’ performance. Now, the boards are expected to consider internal school assessments and grade 11 results. A government appointed panel of experts will determine a criteria for tabulating results soon.

Moreover, exam cancellations will impact university admissions and academic calendar. Delhi University, for example, which grants admissions on the basis of grade 12 marks, will now conduct entrance test, a process that is likely to delay the start of academic year.

However, admissions for professional courses, including engineering and medicine may not be impacted as admissions are based on entrance tests.

Still, in-person entrance tests for university admissions will be a big logistical nightmare. Over two million students appear for pan-India entrance test for engineering colleges and over 1.3 million for medicine.

The dates for these two big entrance tests are yet to be announced. In order to safely conduct entrance tests, the government must ensure that vaccines for 18-45 age group are prioritised, a difficult task given widespread shortage of shots.

Extraordinary circumstances require out of the box thinking and government must think ahead to meet these challenges. The pandemic has disrupted school and higher education in a big way last year and radical measures would be required to ensure academic continuity for students who leave school this year.

The pandemic has given an opportunity to take a hard look at the entire system on which students are rated in schools and admitted for higher education.