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Uncalled-for battle

Exposing children as ‘warriors’ to board exams amid the deadly onslaught of the pandemic might prove to be a lost bet

Uncalled-for battle
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There is nothing heroic about war, much less in being a warrior. Our honourable Prime Minister's use of the term "exam warrior" when referring to students during a crisis such as this fills me with dread. By sending hapless students to write board examinations during a pandemic, he is likening them to warriors — in a war, they didn't wage or have any control over.

When the enemy is lurking in your next breath, where forgetting to cover your nose with double masks or wiping your sweaty face with an unwashed hand can send you to death's door, this talk of holding exams and making unvaccinated children the cannon fodder in the war against a lethal virus is foolhardy. Children are not warriors trained to face this unseen fast-mutating contagion. Even warriors trained and double vaccinated to deal with this deadly disease are getting wiped off, sometimes with their entire families. The situation we are facing is not war. It is the pathetic lack of investment in educational infrastructure and training over decades that has made board exams and college admissions troublesome and fraught with hurdles.

The triple mutant variant of the Coronavirus is causing concern not just in India where it originated but across the world as well. With 26 million COVID-19 cases, second only to the United States, India has turned into the new epidemic hotspot. The deadly second wave has wreaked havoc in India, overwhelming our healthcare infrastructure, leaving hospitals struggling and drugs and oxygen in short supply. The last few weeks have seen hundreds of people taking to social media platforms to desperately seek help with oxygen supplies, hospital beds and medicines. As several states have gone into lockdown yet again, infections have shown signs of slowing down.

According to the latest figures, cases have dipped below two lakh for the first time since 14 April. Yet the minute states start opening up, infections will rise. A report by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi has suggested that Delhi needs to be prepared for handling as many as 45,000 COVID-19 cases a day with 9,000 patients needing hospitalisation in the worst-case scenario if a third wave of the pandemic hits the national capital. The second wave has impacted the young and old alike, families have lost their loved ones. With an estimate like this, I can't begin to imagine what fresh hell the third wave could bring.

Our vaccination programme is incomplete and vaccines are in short supply. The vaccination programme for the 18+ age group is proceeding in fits and starts. Without students, invigilators and other administrative staff vaccinated, how on earth are the different boards proposing to hold examinations without the possibility of large-scale infections breaking out?

Several countries have cancelled the end-of-school exams in view of the spikes. The UK, France and the Netherlands have all scrapped the final examinations. The International Baccalaureate (IB) has also cancelled examinations in India for its May 2021 assessments due to the ongoing Covid surge in the country. Why can't the CBSE, CISCE and the state boards do the same?

Schools in India transitioned to the online mode of learning over the last year remarkably well with minor glitches. While students in rural and underserved communities have not benefited from the shift to online, surely the government can come up with an alternate system for assessing them? Why are we still looking at examinations with a one-size-fits-all approach? The pathbreaking New Education Policy 2020 advocates a flexibility in approach for building talent for the future, instead of destroying the future of talent.

The Supreme Court of India has adjourned the case seeking cancellation of Class 12 Board Exams 2021 till June 3. Please be optimistic, the bench has allegedly told the counsel. To be optimistic in the face of such dilly-dallying and callousness with the lives of students at risk is a cavalier approach at best. Throughout time, warriors have often been forced to go to war against their wishes, leaving their families and loved ones behind. It is hoped that good sense prevails and thousands of children (not warriors) are saved from the peril of getting infected or infecting others in their families.

Views expressed are personal

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