Renu Sud Sinha
The anxieties and uncertainties of 2020 are playing out all over again a year later for students, teachers and parents alike as the tsunami-like second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic forces cancellation and postponement of board and entrance examinations. After the CBSE, the CISCE has decided to cancel the Class X boards and defer the Class XII exams. Cambridge International has cancelled Class X and XII exams in India, while the International Baccalaureate (IB) Board, too, has decided not to conduct Class XII exams. NEET and IIT-JEE have been postponed, as also the entrance exams to various varsities as well as UGC-NET.
In normal times, perhaps, news about cancellation of board exams may have brought a smile and a sigh of relief to many, but in the ‘new normal’, there has been a mixed reaction.
Class X student Palak Sharma of Chandigarh went numb on hearing the news of the cancellation. Bengaluru-based Siddharth Sundrarajan, on the other hand, was relieved — not because he would not have to face the dreaded exams, but “because at least a decision had been reached, one way or another”. They would not have to remain in limbo like their seniors in Class XII. Maanya Arora was just happy to have been spared of the stress of appearing for exams. Mom Kavita too felt relieved from the health and safety point of view, but felt that schools could have looked at the option of holding exams on own campuses on the pattern of pre-boards.
For Palak and many others, the cancellation bore ominous tidings. While a large number did appear in pre-boards conducted by their schools, many were saving their energy and hard work for the ‘actual exams’. There were others who didn’t appear for school-conducted pre-boards, mostly due to the Covid situation. They are feeling anxious and cheated, as now the yet-to-be-announced new assessment criteria may be based on marks scored in pre-boards and/or internal assessment. Based on percentage scored in these exams, many students have not been able to get their preferred streams after being promoted to Class XI.
Most parents, however, agree with this pragmatic decision going by the escalating Covid cases. The students, too, may reluctantly reconcile, but are quite scathing in their reactions. Ananyaa Priyadarshini, a Class X student of Carmel Convent, Chandigarh, is among the top students of her class. She was looking forward to cut her teeth in the first competitive exams of her life. Disappointed, she only has one query, “If election rallies and Kumbh Mela could be held, why not boards? The CBSE should have been prepared for the eventuality of cancellation. It should have either preponed the exams or warned students that pre-board marks may be considered the final or at least should have prepared the assessment criteria beforehand.”
Her brother, Aryan, a Class XII student at St John’s, Chandigarh, who is dealing with his own anxieties of facing a stretched academic year, is quick to point out the lacuna in the CBSE offer that “any candidate who is not satisfied with the marks allocated on this basis will be given an opportunity to sit in an exam as and when the conditions are conducive to hold the exams”. According to Aryan, “This kind of scenario may be possible only in September-October. This would certainly clash with half-yearly Class XI exams, as classes have already started. Many may not opt because that would mean simultaneous preparation for both Class X boards and Class XI half-yearly.”
While these may be some minor hiccups for Class X students, it’s the Class XII students who are the worst sufferers. An extended academic year, coupled with uncertainty and lack of clear answers, has also stretched their already taut nerves. A majority is unsure of the way forward, let alone any direction. The delay has also put a spanner in the works for those applying abroad. Many may now have to rethink career plans and these young minds are certainly not equipped to handle this added pressure.
Ludhiana-based Arnav Kapoor, a Class XII Commerce student of Kundan Vidya Mandir, was all set to apply to universities in New Zealand and Australia. But the present uncertain situation has demotivated him immensely, says his mother Parul, leading to extreme mood swings and irritability. Now the family is advising him to go in for graduation at DU and postpone chasing his dreams to study abroad.
An NRI presently based in Chandigarh, Upasana Sharma was looking forward to move back to New Zealand to be with her husband after her daughter Muskan, a Class XII student at Vivek High School, finished with her board exams. Now they’re staring at the possibility of a gap year.
“The situation is even worse for those who took a gap year last year, thinking that circumstances may get better this year,” says Ashita Mahendru, a Delhi-based clinical psychologist. “The domino effect is adding to their helplessness as they have to get admission anywhere perforce this year to avoid another gap year. Mental health issues, OCD in particular, are rising among the young at an alarming level. This postponement has only added to their feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.”
“In some cases, more than students, it is the parents who are more anxious about the gap year and are putting pressure on their wards about a no-waste year.”
“Dealing with ambiguity is always difficult,” says Kamna Chhibber, mental health specialist at Fortis Healthcare, Vasant Kunj, Delhi. “As even parents are not able to provide any answers, it’s adding to their anxiety. Many of them are not able to provide emotional support their children need at this time. Perhaps, that’s why the number of students calling our helpline numbers has gone up considerably,” she adds.
“Many students, who were caught in the Covid net, are yet to regain complete normalcy even after full recovery. Mental health issues have increased among the affected lot. Many are facing extreme mood swings. Their studies have been affected drastically. Performance of such students also declined post-Covid. There have been instances in some Delhi schools where performance of the whole class was affected,” adds Mahendru.
For many youngsters from board classes already in therapy for mental health, this delay has added to their existing disorders. Class XII Commerce student, Delhi-based Divjot Kaur has already been in therapy for four years. She had always found sessions with her therapist quite helpful in being able to manage her issues. After the postponement of exams, for the first time in four years, she had to be prescribed psychotropic drugs as sessions alone were not helping her escalated mood disorder. “After the initial transitory relief, frustration set in as I had already been studying the same thing for 13-14 months. But this delay, ambiguity and a sense of no direction has made it way worse. It will affect our next semester at college as well which would be shorter so the pressure will continue.”
Chandigarh-based Dhruv Sharma, preparing for JEE, and Abhyajit Singh, preparing for NEET, agree with her assessment of shorter college semester. However, these youngsters also see a silver lining in this stretched academic year — more time to revise and practice.
In the end, they all hope and wish for the same thing — clear guidelines and an assurance by the authorities that they won’t be left in the lurch on June 1 when the board reviews its decision. All of them are keeping their fingers crossed that exams would be held eventually and not cancelled.
A silver lining in dark times
In the times of cancelled hopes and delayed dreams, not everything and everyone is gloomy. One of such lucky souls is Delhi-based Humanities student Dev Sharma. He is not bothered about the delay in board exams and is spending his time acquiring new skills like learning piano or perfecting old ones like improving his drawing skills. But thenm he can afford to chill as he has already cleared entrance exams to the course he is passionate about — product designing.
Bengaluru-based Parth Bhargva is another youngster who is not bothered about the uncertainty. An IB student, his Class XII exams have already been cancelled. The board grades its students on year-round assignments; Class XII marks form only a minor part of the overall assessment. Based on that, he has already found conditional acceptance in various universities abroad.
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