A 12th Grader’s Response to the Education Minister’s Recent Live Interaction With Students

  • Wake up.
  • Attend school online from 8 am to 10.30 am.
  • Then juggle online coaching classes, which often clash.
  • Sit glued to your laptop/desktop for hours on end (if you’re privileged) or try to squint out the figures on the blackboard that your mobile screen displays. (Again, if you’re privileged enough to have a stable internet connection.)
  • Try to cram in nourishment and refreshment if you can.

If you’re in Class 12 like me, I am sure this is what your routine looks like. We knew, even before the pandemic descended, that 2020 was the year we were to work hard and sacrifice small pleasures to make gains in the long run. Even when the outbreak brought the world to a halt, we knew that we could not afford to take a break.

Even as the pandemic cast a cloud of uncertainty over this year, we knew for certain that at its end we would have to give our board exams and more importantly the entrance exams that would decide our future. We did not have the privilege to indulge in the mass breakdown of normal life that COVID-19 orchestrated.

So, we went on as if nothing happened and did our best to mimic in our output what we would have done in normal times. The 30% cut in syllabus provided some relief. But with time, we realised that despite our best efforts, we are falling short. As we neared November, we began to frantically look for any news that would give us a clue about the probable dates of our impending examinations.

Also read: Online Classes Are Amplifying Inequality. What Can We Do?

So, when education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank announced a live interaction with students to address their concerns, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and took to Twitter with the hope of being heard. Students from all over India tried to explain how their education has been adversely affected in these unprecedented times. #PostponeCBSEboards accompanied almost every tweet to the minister. And understandably so.

What had initially been hopeful anticipation soon turned to disbelief, despair, anger and frustration as we watched him drone on at length about the grand vision of the New Education Policy (NEP) which is yet to be implemented, while remaining seemingly oblivious to all the pressing questions we sought answers to. When he did deign to turn to a few of our questions, all we received was an impressive show on the use of a large number of words to say nothing at all. How will we give practical exams without ever going to the lab?

“I’m sure the conditions would be favourable soon. If not, appropriate steps would be taken in due time.”

When will our exams take place? Will they be postponed?

“When the appropriate time comes and we feel it necessary, a decision will be taken.”

Did it answer our questions? No. Did it relieve us? No. Isn’t the time to take decisions now?

To the minister and officials, here is what our reality is. We appreciate how our teachers have tried to adjust to teaching online so that the continuity of our learning is ensured. But this is all they have managed to do. Online classes are in no way a substitute of the schooling we need. As CBSE itself points out, due to the low accessibility and reliability of internet devices, it is not possible to hold board examinations online. How can the same board expect us to have been able to properly attend classes on the same faulty devices?

Much has been said about how the revolutionary NEP would transform India’s education system from mere mugging-up to real skill-based learning. Do I believe India can ever achieve this? No. Why? Well, when I am being asked by my Chemistry teacher to simply download the investigatory project mandated by the CBSE so that my examination obligations are fulfilled, what else can I say?

Also read: Exclusion of ‘English’: Casteism and Classism at the Heart of NEP

In a stark contrast to foreign institutions’ strict no-plagiarism policy, the Indian education system actively encourages students to copy-paste things off the internet without actually learning anything. If CBSE decides to hold practicals without students actually stepping into labs before, the government’s practices will go against its much hyped-up new policy which advocates hands-on learning. It would be promoting passing exams over actual learning. Actual learning can take place only within classroom walls. If virtual labs are sufficient, will you trust a doctor who has learnt by only watching surgery videos to operate on you?

The right thing to do is to postpone boards exams till May, given that schools reopen in January, and take at least three months of physical classes. Pokhriyal patted himself on the back for having postponed 2020’s NEET and JEE to September in students’ interests. If the batch which enjoyed a normal academic year and whose learning was entirely unaffected by the pandemic is given a six-month extension due to the outbreak which happened at the close of their examinations, how is it fair to expect 2021 batch whose learning for the entire academic year was affected by the pandemic to be ready by March?

Some would say these are just excuses given by unmotivated students at the last moment. I have ranked among the top three in my class ever since second grade. Yet I do not see this ‘online learning’ working for me. Students need schools to reopen before they sit in any exam.

I am also a student in one of the Delhi Public Schools, whose parents’ income allows her to access online classes without any connectivity issues. If I am still struggling to learn, I can not even imagine how it must be for the majority of students who reside in rural areas. It is a great fallacy to think that we have enough resources to successfully impart education online.

And if you believe hard work trumps resources, name one NEET or JEE top ranker who was not coached in one of those famed institutes.

Featured image credit: PTI