Due to rising COVID-19 cases in India, the Union Government has cancelled the Class 10 CBSE board examinations and postponed class 12 CBSE board exams. The class 12 exams were scheduled to be conducted from May 4 to June 15, 2021. However, in a fresh press release, CBSE on Wednesday has informed that COVID-19 situation will be reviewed on June 1, 2021 and a decision will be taken based on this. This new announcement is likely to cause a ripple effect in the education space, as a delay in holding board exams leads to a delay in college applications, admissions and the start of the new academic year. TNM spoke to principals of CBSE schools, education experts and academicians running coaching centres for NEET and IIT JEE, to gauge effects of this delay on students and the coming academic year. Dr Usha Reddy, Principal and CEO of Meridien School at Banjara Hills in Hyderabad says that postponing Class 12 exams and cancelling Class 10 exams is a good move. “Nothing is worth risking children’s lives. In the last month, unlike last year, we have been seeing more cases of children getting infected by the coronavirus – even those that weren’t going to schools. So, it would have been risky to be having exams in such a scenario,” she says. While the COVID-19 situation has compelled exam cancellation, Anjali Razdan, the Dean of Education at Hyderabad-based Rockwoods International School, says that it is becoming difficult to gauge what children have learnt without the examinations. “This is the second time this is happening – last year too, Class 10 students’ exams were cancelled. The true picture of their learning is not really emerging. And due to the online system, many children would have forgotten how to write for the papers because most tests are in objective or multiple-choice question format. These can’t really substitute live exams,” she argues. Both Dr Usha and Anjali say that deferring the Class 12 exams will have an effect on competitive exams and college intakes also. The Union government has decided to review the situation to hold Class 12 board exams on June 1, and even if the exams happen in the next couple of months after that, higher education exams will follow suit. This could lead to the next academic year being shorter, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing. For one, Anjali says that it could compel the education system to modernise – “reducing syllabus, focusing on key concepts over covering everything, and knowing nothing.” Further Dr Usha says that the delay in exams and subsequent higher studies intake, and academic years will not have a very detrimental effect. “In such a situation where some states have gone under some level of lockdown, it will be risky to have exams. At this stage in their education, students will catch up, some extra work can be done.” Competitive exams C Naga Surya Teja, who runs Jupiter Academy for NEET (Medical) and IIT JEE coaching in Chennai says that postponing Board Exams won’t have much of an impact on students attempting competitive exams. “If you look at the bright side, students get more breathing space and preparation time. But the delay will slow down everything including the results process, counselling, admission process etc,” Naga Surya adds. Before the pandemic, the National Testing Agency (NTA) offered two attempts of the JEE Mains every year. One in January and the other in April. In the pandemic year of 2020, the April schedule was postponed due to the total lockdown and was finally held from September 1 to 6, 2020. This resulted in an overall delay in counselling sessions, admissions etc. The academic year finally began in November 2020. Learning from the previous year’s experience, this year the NTA is offering four attempts to the JEE. Students can take the exam in February, March, April and May. While the exam has already been held two times in 2021 - in February and March, the rise in COVID-19 cases has cast doubts on whether the NTA will hold the next two exams. “About 15 lakh students write the exam every year. So we cannot blame the government even if they decide to delay the exam due to rising cases. Because students have to physically come and write the exam at the centre,” Naya Surya explains. However, a delay in Board Exams is unlikely to have a big impact as they run parallely to the competitive exams. “Yes, there is a cut off of 75% in your board exams to qualify for JEE. But in 2020 after the board exam was postponed, this criteria too was also taken off, making it easier for students,” he adds. Beyond examinations Speaking to TNM, educationist PB Prince Gajendra Babu asks why “people aren’t thinking beyond examinations”. “Are we only going to talk about examinations as an evaluation tool, or are we going to look at the learning process of the child also? In Tamil Nadu, we have seen that, ever since schools shut down, several teen girls have been married off or have got pregnant and dropped out of school. Many have quit school to fend for the family as the lockdown cut off their resources. How will the state or centre put all these children back into schools?. This is a question we should be asking, not what a few months delay in holding exams,” he says.