Two heads are better than one is a common saying but it is moot whether it applies to examinations too. Using an opportunity of a pause in Board exams caused by the pandemic, the CBSE has used the reset button to come up with a revolutionary two-exam mode in different formats for Class 10 and 12 that seeks to change the basic concept of holding a single exam that used to determine everything, from the students’ careers to shaping their lives. In a takeoff on the two-semester system that colleges use for engineering studies, the academic session will be bifurcated into two terms with the first term exams of 90 minutes’ duration to be held in November-December 2021 and second term exams in March-April 2022 at exam centres.
The idea may be to distribute the stress of exams and to get the students accustomed to taking exams in their stride while also splitting the syllabus to bring down the burden. The continuous recording of internal assessment scores rather than just one annual score is likely to help students get over the vagaries of an academic year. Any number of unknown factors may crop up in a sweeping reform, particularly about the authenticity of exam results if they are to be held in online mode with students taking the exam at home in case the pandemic forces the postponement of operating exam centres. The semester system might also allow students some time to take on additional study for entrance tests to professional courses.
The elimination of rote learning that used to dominate student methods in taking the single big exam as a determinant of their marks would be the greatest contribution to the Indian system of assessing student merits in exams. The system is burdened right now with ratifying the marks that schools will be giving their students for the previous academic year. Tackling the anomalies likely to crop up is going to be a challenge, as schools would certainly try to favour their students in internal assessment marks. What the reform promises is a vision that will take everyone beyond last academic year’s fiasco in which the exams could not be held at all. All students have suffered from the inadequacies of online teaching and learning for a whole academic year now when the inequities of India’s patchy Internet coverage were most evident across the urban-rural divide.
The uncertainty over how long the pandemic will last before the virus becomes just endemic. It would take a brave nation to declare the second wave has subsided and consider the situation to be safe enough to put students and teachers back in classroom mode. While learning outcomes will be far better, there is no knowing if such congregations of students will not help the virus spread more easily. The UK experience of putting all students classified as contacts to a stray positive case has been bitter with lakhs of students forced to spend time in cruel self-isolation. A lot depends on when schools can be reopened but the CBSE has used the time well to think of alternatives.