In the course of the uncertainty caused by the corona pandemic and the postponing of the final year examination, the recent notification issued on July 6, by the University Grants Commission (UGC), plainly stated that examination of final year students will be conducted by end of the September. The cloudy situation regarding final year examinations is no more in the scene.
India has reached the third spot in the COVID-19 affected countries in the world. Thousands of people are dying because of this virus. Almost all the countries have imposed lockdowns and shutdowns to prevent their people from this mammoth-like pandemic. Including all other sectors of society, the education sector is also one of the most affected areas due to this invisible enemy that is a virus.
The matter of the fact is that the continuous postponement and cancellation of examinations have already created ambiguity and this new guideline has stimulated a ‘fresh uncertainty’ among students. Although in the revised guideline, UGC it is encouraged to adopt new modes to examine online and offline or mixed modes of the examination. Through social media, multiple petitions have been signed where more than forty-six thousand students in opposition to the UGC’s decision and have stated that “We, the final year students are not testing kits for the government. We are not afraid of exams about exams rather there is a fear of community spreading”.
The whole world is tirelessly fighting with this invisible enemy a virus, which is disastrous, impacting, and hitting intensely to the global world. The profound impact of this pandemic is manifold including psychological, economic, political, and social levels.
Psychological Impact of COVID-19 in the Journal Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome found that “Nationwide lockdowns can produce acute panic, anxiety, obsessive behaviours, hoarding, paranoia, and depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long run. These have been fueled by an “epidemic” spread via different platforms of social media”. In such a risky and tense situation conducting exams created a new outrage at social media and laid discontent among students.
United Grants Commission is a statutory body of the Government of India, established in 1956 which plays a significant role in the coordination, determination, and maintenance of higher education in India. Evaluation of the students through examinations is an important part of the pedagogy. This new guideline of UGC, asserting the needs of the final year examination as an “academic evaluation of students is a very important milestone in any education system. The performance in examinations gives confidence and satisfaction to the students and is a reflection of competence, performance, and credibility that is necessary for global acceptability”.
To provide a better and equal prospectus of assessment, UGC proposed a mixed way that is online and offline to conduct the exam. Although this new guideline proposes a new, ‘liberalised’ and unconventional institution that institutes would get autonomy to conduct the exams through offline that is pen copy or online mode or both altogether.
So, if institutes opt for online mode of examination there might be a matter of biases that means those students who are well off and having access to internet facility would get better benefit out of this and the section who is digitally unempowered or the subject of ‘digital divide’ would suffer. In response, students and academia have shown their dejection.
Since March 24, Indian Universities have remained closed because of this global pandemic. Currently, India is in one of the topmost nations that are the most affected globally. Although the recovery rate of India is better than other countries, the fact is that if the process of vaccine remains elusive, a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has claimed that India might record 2.87 lakh cases per day by February 2021. Humans have never seen such a catastrophic pandemic in near history.
More than twenty-two thousand deaths have been reported in Indian because of this virus. In the absence of remedy, the situation is getting worse day by day. To prevent people from this virus, governments are trying to impose multiple steps of the lockdowns so far.
This ‘coronaphobia’ and its intense impact laid the crumble of social structure, political- economy at the macro level and most importantly health, psychological imbalance, and well-being of the people at the micro-level. In such a tense and risky situation, is this a sensible decision of the UGC to conduct end term examinations when students are already living in such shock, vulnerable and uncertain situations?
Because of this newly revised notification, there is an explicit outrage and dissatisfaction among students. On social media, hashtag Student Lives Matter is a new trend. Instead of the examinations, students are demanding to get promoted.
The response from academia is also two-fold for instance, one which advocates and embraces this decision of conducting exams and another which is at a different corner found this decision ‘unfortunate’. Prof Sukhadeo Thorat, former chairman of UGC and twenty-eight other professors from different institutions across the country like Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, reiterated the demand to cancel final year exams.
In support of the cancellation of the exam, Prof Thorat and other professors stated that “Cancelling exams during a pandemic is sensible and fair precisely because examination must not be devalued”. No doubt examination is an important component of the evaluation process which is essential for the overall development of the students but the currently emerging life threat situation out of this pandemic is making students anxious and despair.
This disarray caused by pandemic, multiple lockdowns, postponing of the exams has fabricated a new mist for the final year students for the admissions. Different universities and institutions have started their process of admissions across India. The new issue has come to the surface in the procedure of the admission because it is still ambiguous for many institutions whether they would take up merit-based admission or entrance exams. This new guideline has augmented exiting ambivalence.
UGC has played a vital role in the higher education system nationwide. Taking the account of this global pandemic and overall students well- being, UGC should reconsider its decision over examining final year students. As Prof Thorat argued that “the uncertainty of COVID-19 pandemic will result in repeated postponements, which can be avoided altogether by adapting the alternative method of evaluation, including the past performance of students”. The impact of this existing pandemic is encompassing which penetrated all walks of the lives and yes, students’ lives matter.
The writer is a Research Fellow at Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar (Central) University Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.