Maharashtra: Schools Yet to Reopen, Yet Offline Exams in the Offing

The Maharashtra government has announced that the offline exams for higher secondary certificate and secondary school certificate will be conducted on April 23 and 29 respectively.

The announcement has come amid a situation where schools falling under the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) are yet to reopen and students in the city are still struggling to cope with inadequate learning facilities and the unfamiliar digital classroom environment.

However, representatives of the education ministry, as well as the state board, have justified the decision, stating the difficulty of conducting online exams across the state. But the decision is particularly alarming since the state government had earlier allowed the reopening of all schools, but schools under the BMC are still exceptions.

The schools in the BMC are yet to receive an order asking them to reopen. The government’s approach here is nothing less than apathetic towards the students hailing from low-income families, who are already marginalised along the lines of caste, class, and religion.

Now, why is it that the government’s decision is posing such a problem to these students? To begin with, their classroom learning has been interrupted for almost a year now, and due to a glaring lack of resources, these students haven’t been able to attend online classes. To date, the state has not stepped in with the necessary measures to help them attend online classes.

When the government expects the students to study from home, they are conveniently ignoring the fact that most students come from households that are home to around 5-10 people. With no sufficient facilities to study properly, it is quite appalling that these students would be required to take their exams (41% of students in the city have no mobile or net links), all the while socially distancing among themselves in a community that has a population density close to 20,000 per sq. km. Even with a stable internet connection, the learning methods are unsustainable as the obstacles are manifold.

While the government might mention the rising number of COVID-19 infections in the city as the logic behind their decision, the callousness shown towards these students cannot be overlooked. What is even stranger is that the practical examinations are also scheduled to happen in April when the students have not set foot in a laboratory since March last year.

The government has so far denied all requests for reopening schools in the slum areas. The extended closure of the schools has resulted in significant loss of and disconnect from classroom learning. All these are bound to result in marginalised communities falling further into the poverty trap, which they are already knee-deep inside.

A scenario where these students catch up to those from well-to-do and middle-class backgrounds (for whom the interruptions were not as harsh) looks very improbable, and it is unacceptable that the former are not even given the chance to go back to their classrooms and get back on track. Such a hardhanded test would subject these students to even more mental distress. Insensitive and unfair measures like these only amplify the already existing education gap between the privileged and the underprivileged.

If the government wishes to stay true to its claims of ‘prioritising education for the disadvantaged’, it should lend an ear to the plight of the students and reopen the schools immediately with necessary precautions. They should be given ample time to prepare and attend the exams on the scheduled dates. But if the schools aren’t allowed to open, citing the increasing COVID-19 cases as a reason, then the realistic option here would be to at least postpone the examinations so that the students get a bit more preparation time, and equality is maintained at least seemingly.

Either way, the government has to step up its efforts by providing support to the already fragile schooling system in these areas. Technology alone will not be enough to tackle such a grave problem.

Equipped with no basics to compete with the more privileged students and no access to good colleges further down the lane, these are communities that have already been victimised by severe economic and social disparity. By turning a blind eye towards these very genuine and legitimate requests, an entire generation of students will be actively forced to participate in this vicious cycle, getting out of which has already become a tiring uphill climb.

Gokul KP is a B.Tech graduate hailing from Kerala and is currently working in Bangalore. He is an aspiring journalist and constantly tries to spread awareness about LGBTQIA+ rights, feminism, and climate change. He also often writes about politics, mental health and mainstream media. As someone who identifies as queer, he is constantly working towards gender inclusivity in all communities, one step at a time.

Featured image credit: Reuters