Published: 27th July 2020
It is up to private institutions to customise online exam patterns, treat students with compassion
It’s a simple question and possibly the most difficult one to handle with a conclusive verdict in India, where, from the very beginning, the education system is mostly exam-driven
There are several concerns expressed on the Central Government’s decision on holding final examinations in academic institutions across the country in this abnormal time induced by increasing Corona threats. The debate is going around in all sorts of media. Being a teacher and head of a university, on a personal level, I've also not been spared. It’s a valid question that really needs attention from all corners. The issue has got a new twist with Aditya Thackeray moving the Supreme Court against this decision. Hence, it’s now a political issue as well.
It’s a simple question and possibly the most difficult one to handle with a conclusive verdict. In India, from the very beginning, the education system is mostly exam-driven and is not very learning-based. This is the general picture across this subcontinent too. We are in a country of first boys, courtesy Amartya Sen, where we feel habitually comfortable with our judgmental attitude toward a student mainly on their exam score. Be it industry or academics, an exam result traditionally appears to be the strongest parameter of judgement. And people somehow enjoy it given no other options.
Parents and their kids jointly fall into depression when their score is lower than others. This collective exam fetishism perhaps has engineered the rampant growth of the majority of sub-standard private educational institutions throughout the country. Thus, it may not be wrong to argue that the government had very little scope to think otherwise. We do not have a system to test the learning of the students without exams! It’s an unfortunate situation; but a reality too! I’m afraid, there would surely be manifold complications with virtually zero solution in sight had the government gone other direction! A change is needed. But the government must ensure with all its limitations that students do not lose a year.
It’s surely not the intent of this author to defend the decision.
The whole country is in doldrums with COVID-19 engulfing our way of life day by day. Students like all other citizens are under tremendous stress and perils. It’s also a fact that our students all over the country don’t have an equal opportunity to online facilities, let alone the fact that J&K has been cut off for almost a year. People have lost jobs and there’s very little hope in sight in the near future. The economy is simply far below its normal shape! Even there seems quite an inadequate guarantee to live because of our frail public health system! All are unavoidable realities!
In such a situation, individual institutions have a very big role to play. Where the central government has mandated exams to be held, it’s the institution that should shoulder the responsibility to treat its pupils with compassion! An institution has the space and scope to customise its own exam pattern and system and to take decisions. Nothing prevents it. That’s perhaps the solution for now. That we need a total paradigm shift remains a different question. Maybe a national debate shall follow!
(Dr Manipadma Datta is the Vice-Chancellor of TERI University. He has been in management teaching, training and research for more than three decades in India and abroad. The views expressed are the author's own)