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Time for Indian higher education institutes to embrace change

Written by The Optimist

Dark clouds of uncertainty loom over everyone’s lives as India faces the wrath of the novel coronavirus. The second wave of the pandemic has brought life to a standstill especially for students who were about to write their board examinations. 

The Central Board of School Education had already cancelled board exams for Class 10 and postponed examination for Class 12 amidst the health crisis. Several other education boards have followed suit. The JEE Main examination which was supposed to be conducted between May 24 to 28 stands postponed. This has resulted in rethinking over college admissions which usually depends on entrance examination scores or board results or a combination of both. 

Students at an examination center

Foreign universities are now divided into two groups. The first consists of countries like Germany, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Universities based in these countries are offering conditional admission offers to foreign students. Earlier students could apply to 3-4 courses but this year they need to state their most preferred course while applying. The second group consists of countries like the US where universities have relaxed their admission criteria. Many of them have waived off admission fee or GRE/GMAT requirements for postgraduate and SAT/ACT for undergraduate students. Moreover, many foreign universities are also offering free vaccines to the newly admitted students.

What is stopping Indian education institutions to think on those lines? Vaccinations have been declared open to all adults from May. Universities may procure vaccines directly from the manufacturers. Regular COVID testing or health check-ups of students and their family members at intervals may also be planned. 

Examination amidst pandemic

Colleges may think of some innovative admission criteria. For instance, students may be asked to research on any contemporary issue of their interest and present their paper virtually. Similarly, an aspiring software engineer may be asked to develop some IT solution which may be useful to people amidst this crisis or a student interested in literature may be asked to write a review of the last book he/she has read in the pandemic or even the last web-show watched online.

Colleges may also come up with a bridge course where students can be admitted based on the scores they have received in school and then after a span of around three months students can be evaluated and graded based on a practical project. 

At a time when India faces a health crisis of monumental proportions, laying stress on board examinations which is treated as a benchmark to decide how meritorious a student is, makes little sense.

Mental health of students studying in senior schools is also a matter of concern. The NCRB data points out that India sees almost one student suicide every hour. Most of the reported cases are from cities. 

School students attending classes when the lockdown was relaxed

The last academic session was held mostly online with open book tests and home assignments. The NSSO 75th Round Survey highlights that the percentage of households having internet facilities is only 23.8. We also see a wide rural-urban divide and gender divide in the access to data. 

People in the know feel that education should be delivered through peer-learning and teacher-children relations. In order to maintain equity and quality of learning outcomes, online education can be a complementary cog and not a substitute. Many students from far-flung areas require intense and engaged forms of knowledge inputs, mentoring, and companionship of co-learners. 

The New Education Policy 2020 offers hope. Discussions about its implementation should resume as soon as the second wave of COVID infections is contained. India should bridge the digital divide at the earliest and move forward with its vaccination drive aggressively. Indian universities have to take bold innovative steps to come out of the fixation on board exams.

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The Optimist

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