Are we obsessed with exams?

Schools exams are finally not taking place. College exams (final year) are still being debated. Entrance exams have been postponed. Why is it so difficult to take a decision about exams?

Well, yes, we know. This year has been a year of uncertainty and no one knows when life is going to return to normal. But the confusion surrounding students’ examinations is disturbing. It’s driving students mad. Almost every day, we see students requesting the government to cancel exams on social media.  Trends like #cancelexams, #Exams2020, #StudentsLivesMatters are becoming almost everyday affair on Twitter.

This begs the question – Why are we obsessed with exams?

After all, what exactly is the purpose of exams?

Two things come to mind when we talk about purpose of exams:

  1. To test students’ knowledge about the subject.
  2. To find out whether students have the ability to pursue the courses (usually professional) they aspire.

Do our exams serve these two purposes?

Talking about board exams, we all know that, in its present form, they test the rote learning skills of students more than their knowledge. So, the government’s decision to cancel the remaining exams this year was a welcome one. Had it been taken in May itself, students would have heaved a sigh of relief earlier, and may have spent the following months doing something constructive (say, enrolling for an online course of their choice and enhancing their skills) instead of worrying about exams.

Next comes, college exams or professional courses. College students in their final year and aspirants for professional courses still do not have a clear picture about their exams. As per the new dates, the exams will be conducted in September provided the situation is fine. For college students, UGC has come up with revised guidelines. This gives colleges the freedom to choose the mode of exam — online, offline, and/or hybrid. Colleges have also been suggested to hold special exams for students who are unable to appear in the examination. These exams can be held whenever the situation becomes conducive. Appears quite a fair deal. Isn’t it?

However, students are demanding cancellation of exams, citing health concern. This too, UGC tried to answer in its official statement, “In view of the emerging situation related to COVID-19 pandemic in India, it is important to safeguard the principles of health, safety, fair and equal opportunity for students. At the same time, it is very crucial to ensure academic credibility, career opportunities, and future progress of students globally. Academic evaluation of students is a very important milestone in any education system.”

Perhaps, it is right. One cannot completely do away with exams… yet! But the present crisis also provides an opportunity to develop an alternative method of academic evaluation of students. That other method will also ensure students who are unable to appear in final exams in normal times due to health issues or any other reason do not have to drop their year. Moreover, who knows when there’s going to be another pandemic like this in future? So, why not be prepared for the unforeseen future? Isn’t this what our education prepares us for?

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