The festive season of December brings no joy to Jenni Susan this year. A student of Class 10 in a reputed Chennai school affiliated to the state board, Jenni has attended all classes, taken notes and written tests online. But despite her best efforts, she is not prepared enough to write the Board examinations, should they be held in March as usual.
Jenni’s school, like many others in the city, has not completed the entire syllabus as outlined at the beginning of the year. And as the new year is about to start, panic grips the 16-year-old girl. She has many unanswered questions: When will the exams be held? What are the chapters that they will finally be tested on? Will she have enough time to prepare and perform as she aspires to?
“We were asked to study everything during such testing times (the pandemic). And then even if the government omits 40% of the portion later, isn’t it a waste of our time?” questions Jenni.
Students in Classes 10 and 12 in schools affiliated to the state board share the same concerns as Jenni as they wait to write their exams next year, and most of them attribute this stress and uncertainty to the callous attitude of the Tamil Nadu government.
A lethargic state
The Tamil Nadu government had constituted an 18-member panel to look into whether and how the syllabus for the academic year 2020-21 should be revised. This decision was taken after all the educational institutions were shut due to COVID-19. But even after all these months, when there is just about a quarter of the academic year left, there has been no decision or communication from the State Education Department on the portions of the curriculum that could be condensed.
“The CBSE board has earmarked the portions that have been omitted for this academic year. The state boards of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka did the same many months ago. Why is the Tamil Nadu government not prioritising it?” questioned Antony Arulraj, Coordinator of Tamil Nadu Private Schools Association.
School Education Minister K A Sengottaiyan hinted that the particulars of the syllabus revision will be divulged by the first week of December. “The panel has submitted its report to the Chief Minister, who will announce the decision soon,” the Minister said. But, even that news has not made students happy, as they feel enough damage has been done already.
“Students under the CBSE board will be writing their practicals next month, while those in the state board are still struggling to find out what the test syllabus is. Such delay from the government’s side is unpardonable. Even if the decision on omission of portions is made now, students have less than three months to prepare,” said Mahalakshmi Balaji, a parent in the city. Mahalakshmi’s son, B Akhil is in Class 12.
The inadequacy of online classes
But why should the syllabus be condensed when schools have taken the virtual route to teach students for almost the entire academic year so far?
“Retaining the entire syllabus would be discriminatory; Online education helps students stay in touch with academics and schooling, but the efficacy in terms of how much they can actually learn is suspect; there is a question of digital fatigue,” says Prince Gajendrababu, educationist and general secretary, State Platform for Common School System.
The effectiveness of online education among school students has been questioned by many others too. “Ensuring full strength in an online class is a challenging task. Students make all sorts of excuses, from poor connectivity to power cuts. Learning from home, without real-time interaction with teachers and the peer groups, is impossible for many,” says Mohan Chander, Correspondent and Principal of Rajkumar Sulochana Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Nanganallur.
Students have also expressed discontent about online classes from time to time. An introvert, B Akhil is not comfortable raising doubts in a virtual class. In school earlier, he would approach his teacher individually to ask questions or clarify doubts. He misses those days so much. “I have no motivation to study and somehow get through the exams. My teachers keep counselling me. But I just can’t focus. The reduction of the syllabus would have made it easier for me to move forward,” Akhil says.
“Stress among students is real. Parents and teachers should take some time out to counsel these students. What is important is learning and not grades. This belief should be deep-rooted among children. It is also the only way to reduce stress and inculcate better perspectives among students,” says K Venkataramani, Child Psychologist.
The way out
It is no exaggeration that students are bearing the brunt of the pandemic and the callousness of the government. What could bring them some respite?
“Board exams should not be conducted before May next year,” said Mohan Chander. But considering that national level competitive exams might not be postponed, how feasible is that idea, especially for students in their twelfth?
“The National Testing Agency should take into consideration the opinion of all state governments before conducting competitive exams such as IIT and other entrance exams. State board exams can be conducted in June, if the schools are reopened in January. Competitive exams can be postponed to July. After all, exams cannot be a priority now; losing an academic year is not something to be unduly worried about, given the globally prevailing situation,” concluded Prince Gajendrababu.
Officials from the school education department, including the Director and the Principal Secretary, did not respond to our calls.