Why Exams should be held amid COVID-19

This was an op-ed I wrote for my writing community. I don’t agree with this, but wanted to write it to see if I could make a persuasive point.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has disrupted our lives. In recent times many debate whether or not exams should take place. For us to come out of this pandemic stronger, they should.

Let us start with some numbers for context.

India produces 1.5 million engineers and 30,000 medical graduates each year. Our industry revolves around these numbers. Cancelling a whole year by not keeping exams, will reduce production in an already faltering industry. 

On average, 26.5 million students enroll in Indian colleges every year. Cancelling exams or postponing them indefinitely wastes a whole academic school year. It also increases strain upon the students as they keep preparing for an exam that no one knows will even take place or not. It’s a student’s worst nightmare.

This also increases strain on the next academic year. The competition for seats will be even higher. Say, there are 100 seats in an engineering college and 200 students compete for them. But, the backlog created by the previous year, would mean that 400 students will now compete for those 100 seats. 

Not holding exams will be a waste of human resource. This will affect production as well as increase strain on our educational institutions.

The Solution

Offline exams are not an option. With 3.3 million cases already, social distancing is our only hope. And it cannot be observed with 20 students sitting in one room together. Even if we figure out ways to ensure that students sit at a distance, the entry and exit points remain potential hazards. 

Then there is the problem of transportation. Millions of people all over India depend on public transport. Without it, they can’t get to their exam centers. Even if public transport restarts, social distancing measures in busses will be a difficult task.

The solution is to postpone exams for a target period, like three months. And instead of waiting for the situation to calm down, we mitigate the problems that stop us from conducting examinations in the first place.

Online exams are key. While this is a feasible option for the urban sector, what about the rural sector? The rural sector faces 2 major problems. One is the inaccessibility of online infrastructure and a stable internet connection. The second is the unavailability of transport to go to exam centers as mentioned earlier.

The govt. should plan properly in the next three months. The Internet can be made a basic human right for all, as has been done in Finland. Community centers can be set up in villages where the residents pool together whatever technology they have, along with government aid. Instead of an exam where all students sit together and write it, the examination can be conducted in batches. In such a way, we can overcome the lack of technology and the internet.

There are also many easy-to-implement technological processes to prevent cheating in such exams.

The argument is no longer if exams should be held or not, but how they should be held. We should, as a country work together and ensure a stable future for all students.

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