Arbitrary evaluation of the students in Grade XII could adversely influence their admission to good colleges in Nepal and abroad

The repeated cancellation of the Grade XII board exams due to the coronavirus pandemic has only added mental pressure on the 450,000 students who were preparing for them. The exams were to begin in the physical presence of the students from next week on Sunday, but the National Examination Board (NEB) on Saturday decided to postpone them indefinitely for the second time. The NEB had been under pressure from the COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre, lawmakers representing the Education and Health Committee in the House of Representatives, students and other stakeholders to postpone the exams.

The exams were initially scheduled for June 9, but had to be postponed after the second wave of COVID-19 swept across the country and began especially infecting the youths. Having to make fresh preparations for the exams time and again has frustrated the students, who, according to the NEB, will now be informed about the new schedule 15 days ahead of the examination date. It is apparent that the Grade 12 exams cannot be held until the virus comes under control, but when that will be is hard to predict with the third wave of COVID-19 starting to surge.

The NEB is adamant on not seeking an alternative to the three-hour exam at the examination centres to test the students' knowledge. There have been suggestions to evaluate the students based on their internal performance as in the case of the Secondary School Exams (SEE) taken at the end of class X.

The results of the board exams, which were published on Saturday, were based on the internal assessment of the students as in the previous year, but how fairly they have been graded is a moot question. Last year, as many as 19,000 students got a 4.0 GPA, a phenomenal increase from less than a thousand the previous year, prompting the NEB to seek an explanation from schools should any student score more than 80 per cent in a subject this time around. Arbitrary evaluation of the students in Grade XII could adversely influence their admission to good colleges at the Bachelor level.

Frequent postponement of the Grade XII board exams means shifting the admission dates in college, which plays havoc with the academic calendar. The SEE students had faced a similar fate, when the exams, initially scheduled to begin from March 19, were rescheduled for May 27 before being scrapped due to the pandemic. Given the surge in the number of COVID cases and uncertainty regarding when the pandemic will finally come under control, can something be done? What if the pandemic is here to stay for many more years to come? If the NEB is keen to hold in-person examination, then the only way out is to inoculate all the students sitting for the board exams as early as possible. With millions of vaccines now arriving from different countries, the government could give priority to the population in the 17- 19 age group. Vaccination and strict adherence to the health protocols could make holding the exams at the exam centres less risky. Instead of the three hours, the exam duration could also be shortened to half the time while adding many more centres than is the norm so that students don't need to travel long distances to sit for the exams.

Wear masks

Massive vaccination of all the eligible population, social distancing, hand-washing and wearing a medical face mask can keep the coronavirus and its new variant at bay. It has been found that the general people have stopped wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing after the government lifted the ban on vehicular movement. Non-adherence to the health protocols could contribute to the spread of the virus that has already claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people across the country. The new variant which has spread even in the rural ares is said to be more lethal than the second wave of the virus.

Amidst this background, the government has launched the "Nepal Mask Campaign" from Saturday.

PM Sher Bahadur Deuba has said the government's lone efforts would not be enough to stem the spread of the coronavirus. While it is important to abide by the health protocols to keep the virus at bay, the government must make maximum effort to immunise all, including children above 12 years of age.

It is possible to reopen schools, colleges, sports and entertainment sectors once children are also vaccinated.

The sooner we provide vaccines to all, the more effective it will be to control the virus.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 9 2021, of The Himalayan Times.