Huddled in a solitary corner amidst the early morning bustle of the classroom, sweat pouring down her face, she tries to hurriedly jot down the homework while keeping an eye out for the teacher who might enter anytime now. This is an all too common sight not just in India, but in schools across the world.
This became a part of any student’s daily grind that involved everything from getting their ears pulled for writing plagiarised homework to achieving that indescribable round of applause from fellow classmates. However, with COVID-19 sweeping humankind off its feet, students too have become an inevitable casualty.
The latest decision to ‘rationalise’ the syllabus by up to 30% for a year in order to ‘ease the burden’ off students is only the latest in a series of moves by the government that has left school-goers in a tizzy. As per a report by the CBSE, chapters on democracy and diversity, and nationalism and federalism, among others have been dropped from the syllabus of Class 9th to 12th.
Amid the public outrage over selective dropping of chapters, one can only wonder its ramifications on students in the long run. But as Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia says,“The topics of social science which are dropped are so relevant in contemporary context that it is important that children learn about it through ‘authentic source rather than through Whatsapp University.”
With classrooms going online in the wake of the pandemic, and gadgets such as laptops and smartphones becoming lifesavers, an inherent digital divide comes to the fore. Even as students from private schools log into virtual classrooms, the son of say, a driver or domestic help, struggles to follow suit.
Hence, the inability to avail proper teaching material may lead to academic disadvantage or even force students to drop out. According to the Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India report, less the 15% of rural India households have access to internet compared to 42% in urban households. COVID-19 has nothing but exacerbated the difference between the haves and the have-nots.
Following a long-drawn court battle, the remaining board exams for Class 10th and 12th CBSE and ICSE students have been cancelled and an alternative internal assessment for grading has been put in place.
However, several questions continue to bother students with regard to the grading procedure. The education board told the apex court that the CBSE’s assessment scheme will consider marks achieved by the students in the last three papers of board exams, and students may take admission on the basis of this result.
Expressing their displeasure over the move, Pooja Singh, a student from Delhi, was quoted by TOI saying, “My Hindi exam was left and I have confidence about my score in the pre-boards. But many of my friends could not take the pre-board exams due to some reason or the other. How will they be eligible for admission to Delhi University, which in all probability, will announce its cut-offs in August?”
While meeting the sky-high cut-offs is indeed a far-fetched dream for students, life inside Delhi University isn’t particularly a happy one either. The university administration’s decision to go ahead with online Open Book Examinations (OBE) for final year students has received widespread condemnation from students, a majority of whom hail from families with modest means.
Complaints ranging from failure in registration to difficulties in uploading answer sheets during a mock test held earlier this week lay bare an inefficient system that failed to meet expectations. Under pressure, the exams have now been postponed till 15th August, but students demand cancellation of what they call a move “designed to produce crippling anxiety in students.“
As if the problems weren’t enough, fresh graduates out of college are also having a tough time finding jobs at what they would have considered to be an ideal workplace in pre-COVID times. The prolonged lockdown across the country has caused businesses to shut, thus reducing revenue and forcing layoffs.
Given the tailspin our economy is undergoing, the pandemic proved to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Several firms have instituted pay cuts and sent their employees packing, while some of the noted, Ola, Zomato and Oyo Rooms to name a few. In such a scenario, one has to live in a fool’s paradise to go job-hunting.
Another debate that hasn’t exactly been part of the public discourse during the pandemic is the one involving mental health, especially among students. Loss of social contact, concentration and thoughts about a bleak future have emerged as a roadblock for hundreds of aspirants. “Students who remain confined to their hostel rooms or PG accommodation report depressive mood, sleeplessness or a tendency to engage in self-injurious behaviour such as face-slapping or skin-picking, more frequently than those who stay at home,” SP Jena, professor of Applied Psychology, who is in-charge of the Delhi University’s online counselling service, told TOI.
The discussion about mental health has been a taboo for far too long. The pandemic, accompanied by its woes, has only exacerbated the rot that continues to fester. It’s time for the authorities to sit up and take notice, for the battle to curb the health crisis has led to several unintended and irreversible damages.