Kapil Sibal, however, cautioned that internal assessment may throw up problems of subjectivity and objectivity has to be ensured.
With uncertainty looming over the 2020-2021 academic session of schools in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, former Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal on Sunday said either all students barring those in Class 12 be promoted or an internal assessment mechanism be put in place to save them from examination stress next year.
The senior Congress leader also suggested that courses can be reduced both in schools and universities and the teaching time lost in the 2020-21 session due to the pandemic could be made up in the next year with extra effort from both the teacher and student communities.
“Various universities will also have to take a decision on whether or not to delay the academic session and they have the autonomy to take a call and a decision cannot be forced on them,” Mr. Sibal told PTI in an interview.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has issued guidelines to universities that the new academic session for freshers will begin from September while for the existing students from August.
However, it has said the guidelines are advisory in nature and varsities may chalk out their own plans according to the COVID-19 pandemic prevailing in their areas.
Asked about the uncertainty looming large over the 2020-21 academic session in schools which are shut and holding online classes, Mr. Sibal said going forward there could be two options that can be considered for school students barring those in Class 12.
One way is to promote everybody and take some extra classes when the pandemic is over as well as ensure students complete their course in the next class, Mr. Sibal said.
“The other way is that if you are confident that your teachers will make an objective assessment of the student community which a majority of them might, then you leave it to them and the school to make the internal assessment and promote those to Class 11 who have done well (or to the next class for students of other classes),” he said, asserting that it would save the students from the examination stress.
He, however, cautioned that internal assessment may throw up problems of subjectivity and objectivity has to be ensured.
It is finally up to the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry to decide on such issues, he added.
Innovative ways should be found so that students are not punished for what they are not in control of, said Mr. Sibal, who was the HRD Minister from May 2009-October 2012 in the UPA-II government.
As the HRD minister, Mr. Sibal had spearheaded a reforms process in the education sector under which it was decided to abolish compulsory CBSE Board exams for Class X. However, in 2018 the CBSE reverted to the mandatory examination for Class 10.
Asked about pending classes 10 and 12 CBSE as well as other board exams, the Rajya Sabha member said, “I think as far as Class 10 board exams are concerned there should be a re-think. For Class 12 board exams, I think that in the light of the pandemic, the university calendar for the year should change and in that context let’s hope for the lockdown to be over and then the exams can be conducted.”
On competitive examinations like the JEE and NEET, Mr. Sibal said the current situation of the pandemic has put the students from the poor and marginalised sections of the society at a disadvantage.
“Remember that there is a divide in this country and it always works against the poor and the marginalised. When you have these competitive exams and there is already this divide, it hurts the poor and the marginalised even more,” he said.
“Whether they should be held in July I can’t say, it is for the HRD Ministry to decide…. But I believe you will further reduce the chances of those whose chances are already minimal in these exams,” he said.
Mr. Sibal also asserted that difficulties would be aplenty going forward as social distancing in packed schools is almost impossible and the lack of digital connectivity across the country would result in online teaching putting the poor and rural populace at a disadvantage.
“We are in a big bind. If this pandemic were to last for a year and a year-and-half, the student community is going to be distressed further…. I don’t think the kind of social distancing that we are talking about is possible in our school environment,” the senior Congress leader said.
There is lack of digital connectivity and, therefore, it is not possible for students to be educated through the digital mode, Sibal said.
Digitisation will give advantage to those privileged schools that have connectivity, he said.
In this context, Mr. Sibal said he had suggested as the then HRD Minister, the introduction of the Aakash tablet, which was to be made available to students in educational institutes across the country, with the idea of making students digitally savvy and provide schools with fiber-optic connectivity to allow access to new sources of knowledge.
“If this concept had been accepted and this government in the last six years had invested in connectivity as far as education is concerned, we would not have been faced with this problem today,” said Mr. Sibal.