The announcement made by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said, “Students should not be forced to appear for exams in such a stressful situation”, and our PM asserted the fact, “the health and safety of our students is of utmost importance and there will be no compromise on this aspect.”
It was high time that a situation like the Covid-19 outbreak could influence this decision. It is not an unknown fact that the pressure in online classrooms has been extremely intense for the past one and a half years as students and teachers have been consistently struggling with the uncertainty of the times. Students grappled with the looming uncertainty that was made worse by everyday announcements, specifications, and updates. With the schools facing a financial deficit, parents increasingly under pressure to pay fees while they deal with the rising unemployment and cutbacks, the mental health of the individual has gone down the drain. There were not only inadequate resources and digitally available material which could compensate for an off-line mode of teaching, but teachers were asked to adapt to the changing demands of the times, overnight.
Some of the schools are doing their best, by bringing in recreational activities digitally and inculcating good practices like yoga, mindfulness, and relaxation session. So, in the light of self-isolation, to households dealing with family members battling COVID-19 along with struggles around lockdown, how relevant is the idea of examination? There is a need to address discussions around loneliness, anxiety, and depression because of the experiences shared by students in the current times. There is not only a need to address the disappointment and hopelessness around a very different school or college experience but to focus on the need to do away with the hullabaloo around the much-awaited markers to judge academic excellence or merit.
According to a survey carried out by the Indian Psychiatry Society, there was a 20% rise in the number of cases of mental illness at the end of March 2020. Not just at the school level, last month’s survey of over 1,100 students at Delhi University has shown that 68.2% of them are not in the right physical or mental state to prepare or appear for the Open Book Examination (OBE). The survey was conducted between 6th May and 11th May by the student’s union of Lady Shri Ram College for Women (LSR). The survey pointed at the jarring impact of mental and emotional stress experienced by students while appearing for the examination. The survey also mentions that 47.6% of students did not have a stable internet connection and in the last OBE, around 48% stated that they did not have the resources to appear for OBE. This kind of depravity is a stark commentary on how inaccessibility of resources and the question of privilege can impact the performance and well-being of the students.
With the changing dynamics of the ‘new normal, the new online learning need not be an isolating experience. The governing bodies must come up with systems to establish communication as an integral part of the online teaching and learning experience. This must not be relegated to webinars, videos, or discussions on forums but there must be an infrastructure in place which can gather the online teaching and learning community. The critical balance between work and play, ways to reduce screen time, and enabling good practices must cater to the emotional needs of the students in the Indian education system. We must drift away from conventional ways to address the mental well-being not as a subsidiary but rather as a primary objective in working towards building cognitive and learning skills of students, and thereby our future generations.