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How students should cope with the Corona lockdown

25 March, 2020 07:26:19
How students should cope with the Corona lockdown

Trina Das Gupta teaches English at the senior school level. She is closely associated with one of the premier national examination boards. She conducts workshops in Communicative English in India and abroad. She is Executive Editor of the magazine Kolkata on Wheels and Director of her own company, Catalyst Advisory Services, a career guidance cell for students.

As the crown reared its ugly head and a pandemic of epic proportions clawed its scary way around the globe, educational institutions and examination boards across the country went into shutdown mode. One after another chess pieces toppled, as schools conducting ongoing board examinations were instructed to stop, parents and students received circulars informing them that the dreaded delay had become reality. Evaluation came to a virtual standstill as it was deemed high-risk for examiners to gather in one place.   

The immediate reaction has been mixed – some laud the decision, while others are frightened, angry or still in denial. But how has the cancellation of examinations affected those most invested in the process – the students themselves? And why were their exams cancelled in the first place? Let’s take a quick look at the logic involved. Imagine that in Examination hall A, there are a 100 examinees, overseen by 10 invigilators along with the head of the host institution, office staff, support staff etc. They in their turn each come in contact with a 100 people from different walks of life, each in turn in contact with family, friends, shopkeepers, co-travellers on public transport. The numbers keep increasing in quick progression resulting in a mind boggling total count. Even that initial gathering of 150 students and teachers can endanger the lives of fifteen thousand people in case of a COVID-19 contamination straight away. The only way is to contain – via prohibition or cancellation of such exams.

Really, if one can be sensible and just pause, rejig – there will be very little difference, at least within India, for Class 10 and Class 12 board examinees. At worst, the length of the academic first year might be shortened or the holidays grow a little slimmer – but that’s about it. Along with the CBSE and CISCE, the state boards have all taken steps to suspend exams. Other important entrance exams like the JEE Main, NIOS, Army, Delhi Higher Judicial Services Main exams, MAH MCA CET, Bihar D. El. Ed. Joint Entrance Exam have been postponed.  

What about timeframes abroad then? Parallel to chalking out emergency measures to tackle the current situational crisis, universities will probably focus on the phenomena called ‘dynamic programming’ of what is going to be happening three to six months from now. Most graduate schools in the U.S. expect students to reply to acceptance letters by April 15. Most also require undergraduates to commit to a school by May 1. But in the present scenario how are students in other countries to know whether they will be able to come to the United States in the fall? For example, American consular services in China are shut down. No one knows when applications for student visas will be accepted. Right now, universities of the USA, for example, are busy sending students home in droves in an attempt to limit community transmission. If you need to take a GMAT, GRE or TOEFL exam for your application, you will probably find many test centres around the world have been closed. Australian universities are preparing for a shutdown.

In Cambridge University in the UK students are aghast to find their courses shifting to online format. One student has described this as ‘one of the most disruptive periods of my life’. Online tests increase the possibility of cheating. Testing students remotely during the corona virus outbreak is a flawed idea which will probably lead to devalued degrees. Rearranging exams for as late as the autumn would be equally unrealistic for students expecting to graduate in June.

Online exams rely on a false assumption that all examinees would have access to a stable study environment and the same access to technology. Students with disabilities would be at a disadvantage. In highly competitive areas like law and medicine would not some students from similar backgrounds at least have available higher quality resources than their peers? 5% of students in the USA are international students. Millions of dollars in fees and funding are at stake. Looking at the state of affairs with a dispassionate objectivity one can perhaps suggest that a five point action plan be initiated:

Allay fear.  Talk to the students.  Be transparent. Kids today are more mature and intelligent than we give them credit for.

Immediately chalk out a calendar – commit to ‘whatif’ alternatives as well.

Urge patience and calm – and understanding. We can beat this – together.

Invite dialogue. The freshest and best ideas and solutions can only come from the freshest and best.

Place all the resources you can garner at the disposal of this student group.

These are extraordinary circumstances in extraordinary times.  Human endeavour and research will help us overcome the crisis. If we gather the students together and give them a voice, we shall have laid the foundation and created the dynamics for the most impressive future leaders of our country. In the words of a favourite student of mine who is easily one of the strongest contenders for the Most Important Post – Jai Hind! And God bless us all.

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  • Senior English teacher’s advice to the students

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