Millennium Post (Kolkata)
In a first, the government announced the complete cancellation of CBSE class 10th boards and the postponement of the class 12th boards. An unprecedented step for unprecedented times. India is currently amid the worst surge of COVID-19 cases it has seen thus far. The case count shot over two lakh new cases in one day and there is no indication when this new wave of infections will peak. A concerning feature of this particular wave has been that there is an increasing number of younger sections of the population that are now getting infected. While it was previously presumed that younger generations generally handle the virus better, the new Covid strains are undoing such assertions. There are a variety of different Covid variants now circulating across India with strains such as the UK, South Africa and Brazil variant being more infectious and ‘smarter’ to boot. The Union health ministry also recently announced the presence of a ‘double-mutant’ variant that was detected in Delhi. But it isn’t simply a matter of variants spreading this time. The difference is also in the fact that older generations are now choosing to stay home in many cases and some are even vaccinated at this point. But the younger generations are out and about, whether it be to socialise, learning, jobs, etc. Children in particular offer complications to the whole process of staying safe. Many studies show that children are less likely to exhibit any notable symptoms when affected by the virus and are thus more likely to act as super spreaders to their families. Covid control measures in school have proven difficult to implement. This is not just the case in India but worldwide as well with countries struggling to safely reopen schools even at a time when there isn’t a massive ongoing surge. Some of it is down to behaviour issues. People, including children, are prone to being lax with safety measures after a certain time as Covid precautions fatigue sets in. This is especially the case when younger generations have a misguided sense of how robust and protective their immune system actually is against the virus. The second part of the problem is a matter of infrastructure. Simply put, many school buildings and educational institutions are not built to allow adequate social distancing even if there is a provision of masks and sanitisers. Even if masks are worn and hands are frequently sanitised, lack of social distancing can quickly become a major risk factor. And this is when we are not even going into the growing debate of just how much social distancing is actually enough. Finally, there is the matter of the youth not being part of the group that is currently receiving vaccinations. Despite multiple requests, the government has held out against expanding its current vaccination campaign to include younger generations. Given all this, it is not hard to see why parents and students alike have been increasingly concerned with the idea of approaching state and board exams which require students to give the examination in person. It is in this regard that the government has passed its decision on the 10th and 12th board exams. Aside from the CBSE exams, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra have also postponed their state board exams on account of the ongoing surge. Other states are currently in the process of reviewing the on-ground situation before announcing their decision on their state board exams. But it is without question the cancellation of the 10th board exams which has grabbed headlines and become a hot topic of discussion amongst parents, students and educators alike. It has been announced that instead of the board exams, the students will now be evaluated on the basis of an objective criterion which will soon be announced by the board. If the candidate in question is not happy with the result so arrived using this criterion, they may sit for the actual exams as and when conditions allow. Needless to say, some are more concerned than others regarding this decision. Many feel that the cancellation of the 10th boards, while better than another postponement, leaves them vulnerable and less prepared for when they will give their 12th boards. There is also concern over the new criteria that CBSE will soon announce and how it will replace the board in assessing the results and learning of the students. While the option to wait for an actual exam exists, it is difficult to say with certainty when the exams will actually be held. Holding out on vaccines is not likely to be a short term affair as it is unknown when India will reach a stage of vaccinating its adolescent and school-going population. All in all, these are indeed unprecedented times and as unfortunate as it is for students currently in their board years, there is simply no ideal solution in sight for the government. India, like the world, was caught unprepared.