This article is written by Anjaly Ann Joseph of Government Law College, Ernakulam.
Exam seasons tend to be the most stressful periods of time for every student, owing to the status of examination in our highly competitive society; where the society equates results of examinations with not mere hard work or academic pursuit but the societal status of an entire family and putting the identity of the child at stake. In these already competitive and suffocating times, a pandemic does nothing but add to the woes of students. The second wave of Coronavirus has created a space for ambiguity and anxiousness due to the necessity of cancellation and postponement of exams, leaving the students wondering about their future of their academic pursuits.
WHAT IMPORTANCE DO THESE EXAMINATIONS HOLD?
Examination, particularly written examination has been the standard form for testing the level of knowledge and proficiency acquired in a particular subject since it was introduced in the colonial times. Even though various other forms of assessment have been incorporated into our education system, the emphasis on written examination has not decreased and is still prioritized over the others.
When students grow up in a society which constantly judges their value on the basis of these marks, students often do not question whether their grades, be it board exams or university level, can actually showcase the intelligence, talent, creativity, knowledge or even the grasp of the student of the particular subject. Objectively looking at this question, the answer remains that no, the ‘rote learning’ prevalent in our education system does not provide a holistic reflection of the student’s abilities. The forementioned is also a driving reason why foreign universities admit students on criterion which put their actual ability to test ,and the academic grades merely provides an extra weightage ; this also holds true for professional courses, where students re let in through a system of assessment differing from their standard examination, and hence pushing the narrative that the grade cards of exams do not explore the potential of a student, and do not matter in the long run.
HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC CHANGED THE SYSTEM?
Everything has its own harms and benefits, and looking at the changes brought about during the pandemic, the inculcation of technology into education with all institutions working solely through screens and internet. This change had its own drawbacks, and was also not translated into examinations. Last year, the government mandatorily cancelled exams and held on to the importance of written examinations.
Last year CBSE cancelled both 10th and 12th Board Exams and the students were scored on the basis of alternate assessment scheme, but the students dissatisfied with the same were given the opportunity to appear for the written examination in July. For the second time in a row CBSE has cancelled 10th board exams this year and the states of Telangana, Punjab, Haryana have followed the suit for their respective 10th State Board exams.
In 2020, UGC led a legal battle against states for cancelling final exams in colleges. Ultimately Supreme Court of India ruled in favour of UGC and made final exams mandatory. The result of this act being loss of an year for the concerned students, roused by a predictable delay in the conduct of examinations and thereby culminating in the situation with students awaiting results past a year after their academic schedule.
WHY IS THE CANCELLATION OF EXAMS BAD?
If this trend of cancellation of examinations year after year is to continue, the academic competence will vanish slowly as the students will be derailed and will lack proper orientation without their academic advances being put to test constantly. There is an overall consensus that cancellation of examinations is not in the ‘best interest’ of the students.
Possible avenue for judicial intervention is narrow in the case of cancellation of examinations unless, the judiciary steps beyond its borders with an aim to effect justice. Judicial review and power under Article 142 are the most effective options it can explore.
The doctrine of judicial review is basically the authority of Judiciary to review the Legislative and Executive actions. It can extend to declaring these acts unconstitutional if it is in contravention to Fundamental Rights. The power of Judicial Review of High Courts is provided under Article 226 and 227 of the Indian Constitution. Article 32 as well as Article 136 of the Constitution prescribe the power of judicial review of Supreme Court. Article 142 empowers the court to pass any order necessary to do complete justice in a case. We see this power being widely employed in recent times. Moreover ,in this case ,this power can be used by courts to guide the existing education system to adopt new approaches and adapt to the times. Court can effectively question the current assessment criteria that works merely on memorization. Much needed transformation in education can be instigated.
However in this case, if the court overturned the decision of government, the students would be forced to write the written exam and run the risk of succumbing to COVID-19. Moreover there is a unanimous opinion from all quarters that conducting a pan India written exam now is impossible.
As Winston Churchill once wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” In 2021, as had been predicted, India is yet again in a surge of Covid-19 cases. Lat year, the exams had been cancelled as un unforeseen emergency, but this year exams are being cancelled and postponed due to lack of alternate efficient methods of assessment.
Needless to say, cancellation of examinations is a necessity now, even though repeating this every year and making this a norm will be counterproductive. It is interesting to note that COVID has impacted the world equally, academic matters are going in full rigour globally. Hence, it would be ideal to not have the same remain standstill just in our country. It is advisable to explore the alternatives used in the rest of the countries and exercising the most fitting here. As it is said, whatever happens or changes “Life must go on”.
Curated by Shivanshika Samaddar of National Law University Delhi.