Schools Planning Offline Exams After Year Of Online Classes – Is This Fair To Students?

Right now, school kids all over the country are in a strange situation. Many haven’t attended school at all this last academic year of 2020-21. Through the last 10 months or so, there were times when they really wanted to go to school. The reasons ranged from wanting to meet their friends, to missing the daily routine, to just finding online education to be inadequate. Now, a lot of those students are suddenly being told that they will do their final exams offline, or in person. Is this fair?

The case for offline exams

A significant proportion of students have done all their classes and exams online this year. It was the only option available and admittedly a poor substitute for in-person learning. Clearly, online classes or exams are a stop-gap and kids have to get back to their classroom settings with a teacher in charge. They need proper supervision and they need the discipline of daily routines. Offline exams are necessary for all these reasons and for proper evaluation of students. 

Further, the online exams have been an eyewash. Both the teachers and the students were largely going through the motions because exams have to be held, we feel. If there are no exams, what other way do we gauge the knowledge, insight, progress and preparedness of a student?

However, there are inherent limitations in the online testing format. Invigilation is so difficult that students could and frankly did cheat. Only some types of questions could be asked and answered in that online format. Correction of answer sheets was tedious and difficult for teachers.  Given these facts, there is a good case for shifting final exams offline and making kids commit to pen and paper; in many cases for the first time this year.

The apprehensions

However, many students have rebelled against the idea of being flung back willy-nilly into the offline world. They didn’t ask for online classes and exams, but since they had to do it, they became comfortable with that way of working. It wasn’t ideal by any means, but it was the only alternative available and they made the best of it.

Now, without, having had a single in-person class or exam (this is true for many schools in India) they are being asked to sit for a full-fledged, three-hour exam. Online exams have been shorter, easier and based more on objective and multiple-choice questions. For a lot of kids, getting used to the regular style of examinations is going to be tough; something they aren't prepared for yet.

Teachers have done their best, but due to no fault of theirs, the quality of teaching has not been what it should be. As such, the learning and subject insights kids have gained this academic year have been distinctly below par. Kids are still confused about much of what they have studied. They have been unable to clear doubts and have been unable to benefit from the sort of interaction that typically happens in a proper classroom setting. In other words, kids are apprehensive. They are scared that they will not be able to sustain the rigour of a three-hour exam setting and will perform poorly. They aren't confident that they will be able to cover the vast syllabus on their own.

And lastly, from the point of view of parents, do we really want to endanger our kids at this late stage of the pandemic? We’ve been so cautious for so long, can we not be cautious for a while longer? Kids tend to be irresponsible. How many will be vigilant about mask-wearing, hand hygiene and social distancing? Is it even possible to enforce these in a classroom setting? Is it fair to expect kids to do their best in an offline exam now, after nearly a year of online classes and exams? There are no easy answers but, I come down on the side of probably not.

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