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Riya Sabherwal, the humanities group topper, with 99 per cent marks, with her family. Image Credit:

Dubai: To many Indian students and teachers in the UAE, it had seemed unsettlingly likely that Class 10 and Class 12 board exams under the CBSE, India’s biggest school board, would be cancelled this year — which is what eventually happened — because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, the lead up to the cancellation (in April for Class 10 and in June for Class 12) had been an anxious time, with students preparing for the crucial exams of the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education), while not even knowing whether they would end up sitting the exams.

This year, after the exams were cancelled, the CBSE said students would receive marks based on their school-level tests and coursework, instead of performance in the standardised boards. Despite the pandemic disrupting education and normal routines worldwide, CBSE students in the UAE persevered to succeed in Class 10 and 12 results.

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Inspirational stories

Students and educators from a major education provider in the UAE, The Indian High Group of Schools, have now shared their inspirational stories of overcoming odds to make their mark.

The Indian International School-Dubai Silicon Oasis (IIS-DSO), part of the group, saw 61 students place in the First Division and 31 per cent of students score 90 per cent and above in Class 10 results. Lovnish Julka placed in the first position with 98.6 per cent aggregate marks.

Sreyaa Ravikumar, who ranked second in the school, recalled how she had resolved to limit her world to books and studies so she could realise her dreams.

Sudden shift

“I had been waiting eagerly for my classes to commence, when out of the blue the news channels were flooded with headlines about the COVID-19 pandemic, and that was when I heard the term ‘lockdown’ for the first time. The world seemed to be paralysed and each of us was confined to the four walls like Anne Frank. The email from our school announcing online mode of learning made me, along with many others, apprehensive as I could not understand how it was even possible to study Grade 10 online,” said Sreyaa.

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Sreyaa Ravikumar, who ranked second in the school, recalls how she had resolved to limit her world to books and studies so she could realise her dreams

However, she added, the schoolteachers were available “24/7 to clarify doubts, reduce stress and to ensure our physical, emotional, intellectual, social and moral well-being through thoughtfully planned sessions”.

Sreyaa said the care she received drew her closer to her teachers like never before, and with their support and the guidance of her parents, she obtained 97.8 per cent in Grade 10.

Her schoolmate Tharakini M.S. said she had started Grade 10 with “the will to do well”, but conceded she could not study systematically — too much screen-time was taking a toll on her.

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Tharakini M.S with her family members. She obtained 97.8 per cent in Grade 10.

“I went from waking up and telling myself ‘I’ll do my best today’ to going to bed at night with a sense of failure, not knowing what happened all day. Each day seemed to pass with lethargy, anxiety and indomitable stress — a consequence of excessive screen-time,” she added.

Overcoming fear

Her performance dropped lower than ever. She was not able to focus in online classes and felt she would not be able to secure a decent score. “This fear took over me and I had sleepless nights, but I feel fortunate to have received support from my dear ones and my school, especially from our principal, section supervisor and teachers, who made me comfortable and convinced me to reconsider my decision to quit the maths model exam in the grip of fear.”

With the newly-instilled confidence, she decided to appear for the exam. “Today I am an achiever. I have secured a fair grade in the CBSE results with extremely good marks in maths and I am pursuing the stream of my choice in Grade 11 with the strong conviction that if I care to put forward my first step in faith and give my 100 per cent, the rest will be taken care of.”

Proud of our students’

Punit MK Vasu, CEO, The Indian High Group of Schools, said: “We are incredibly proud of our students, who showed commendable determination and resilience in these difficult times. They have, with the support of our wonderful teachers and parents, proven that nothing can beat a determined mind, not even the pandemic.”

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Punit MK Vasu, CEO, The Indian High Group of Schools in UAE

At their sister school, The Indian High School in Oud Metha, head girl Ananya Khurana and her peers were facing similar challenges in their Class 12 — and also succeeding in overcoming those just as well. The school reached record highs, not only in the top scores among 581 students registered for the CBSE, but also across the entire student body with no student scoring less than 73 per cent.

The highest-ever number of students (33.4 per cent) scored 95 per cent and above; and 68.2 per cent of the 581 students scored 90 per cent (aggregate) and above.

Showing resilience

Ananya said achieving feats such as these in a year where students and teachers were faced with unforeseen obstacles is “phenomenal”. At the beginning of the pandemic, students and parents were wary about how effective distance learning would be in an academic year as important as Grade 12, but the school was quick to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and prevented disruption of learning to its students, she added.

“Apart from our lessons in Physics, Accountancy and Sociology, we young minds learnt by observing how adaptable and resilient educational systems, policymakers, teachers, students and families can be,” Ananya said.

“The pandemic recalibrated how teachers divide their time between teaching, engaging with students, and administrative tasks. The school highlighted the need for flexibility by adapting to the new normal and allowed students to solidify their concepts through summer classes.”

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Science stream topper Anuradha Nair scored 98.4 per cent, says the school's efforts paid off.

Stream toppers

The school’s efforts paid off. Science stream topper Anuradha Nair scored 98.4 per cent. Anuradha said: “I certainly did not expect to top the science stream, but consistent hard work and meticulous study for three years, along with tremendous support from my passionate teachers and friends, have made this possible … Despite full days of lessons, there were times when my teacher and I stayed back after class to discuss doubts.”

Jiten Harwani, the commerce stream topper who scored 98.4 per cent, said: “I am grateful to my teachers who empowered us to take risks, be innovative and seize any opportunity thrown our way. For all its hardships and problems, distance learning also provided insights. My school has never given up, never let us down, never deserted us and has always stayed by our side.”

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Jiten Harwani, the commerce stream topper who scored 98.4 per cent, with his family members.

Riya Sabherwal, the humanities topper, scored 99 per cent. She said: “The faculty, management and everyone at the school has worked towards making our online learning fun by giving us tips on how to use our breaks productively, to organising the recess radio in different languages, not to mention the effort put in by our juniors in organising an online farewell for us. And to top it all, the wonderful convocation which was seamlessly executed.”

Responding to change

Vasu, CEO of The Indian High Group of Schools — and himself an alumnus of The Indian High School in Our Metha — said: “As we come to the end of this very unique and challenging school year for Grade 12, we are overwhelmed and ecstatic at the unprecedented new records set. In this diamond jubilee year, once again our staff, learners and parents have spared no effort in taking achievement levels to new heights.”

He added: “Almost every aspect of our school lives changed due to this pandemic, and I am extremely grateful to the trustees led wonderfully by our Honourable Chairman Girish Jethwani for the way we responded. They were very clear that we have to provide complete support to all learners during these challenging times.”