Universities should not conduct exams amid pandemic, online tests 'discriminatory': Kapil Sibal

Asim Kamal

New Delhi, Jun 28 (PTI) Universities should not conduct examinations in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and even holding online tests is not right as it is 'discriminatory' towards poor students, former human resource development minister Kapil Sibal said on Sunday.

The senior Congress leader also said that with almost half the 2020-21 academic year of schools over without proper classes due to the COVID-19 spread, board examinations for Class 10 should not be held next year as it would burden the students unnecessarily.

'What has happened is that half the year has been lost and we don't know how long this pandemic will continue. There is no need for Class 10 board exams for a while for these two years -- this year and next year -- and then they could relook at this policy,' Sibal told PTI in an interview.

Sibal, who as the HRD minister had spearheaded a reforms process in the education sector under which it was decided to abolish compulsory CBSE Board exams for Class 10, said it was a sensible policy to have been followed but when the NDA came to power they reversed that.

'Thank god they have listened to some sane advice and they have cancelled the board exams. Consider the impact it would have had, especially on the poor students who don't have access to any online facilities,' said Sibal, who was the HRD Minister from May 2009-October 2012 in the UPA-II government.

His remarks come days after the remaining CBSE and ICSE board examinations for classes 10 and 12, scheduled to be held in July, were cancelled.

'Quite frankly even university exams should be postponed,' Sibal said.

Till such time there is a pandemic, there should be no exams and holding online examinations will be 'extremely discriminatory' because in a lot of places in India, in remote areas, there is no facility for online examinations and the poor will be discriminated against, he said.

'See you are creating an elitist culture where the advantage goes to the rich which have access to online facilities and to those institutions which are privileged to provide online facilities and online teaching,' Sibal said.

'Why should you hold these exams in the midst of a pandemic. Many of them (students) have not got teaching materials even the specially-abled persons have not been fully provided teaching materials,' he said.

Delhi University on Saturday postponed the online open book exams for final-year students, which were scheduled to begin from July 1, by 10 days 'in view of...COVID-19 pandemic'.

Several other educational institutions, including Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), have decided to conduct online open book exams.

Asked if examinations are not held how university students will be promoted, Sibal said those going from first year to second year and those from second to third year must have appeared for semester exams during the period, so assessments can be made based on those results.

'But in the meantime, their promotional prospects should not be jeopardised. That takes care of 1st year to second year and second year to 3rd year,' he said.

'Now you come to the university exams. Many students who come from far off places must have gone away from the hostels, how will they take part in online exams from those places. Many of those students are from neighbouring countries, how will they sit for these exams,' Sibal asked.

Noting that in some states, the universities have said they will not hold exams, he suggested that what can be done is that final-year students could be given a provisional degree based on their past performance and they can sit for exams as and when they have the materials and the tenure of the teaching class has been completed as would have happened in a regular year.

'Some universities are doing that. I don't know why that is not being done in Delhi,' he said.

Asked if the Centre should introduce a uniform policy for examinations in universities, Sibal said the problem is that universities are independent institutions and the government can't decide what they should do or not.

The universities have a level of autonomy, but they themselves should find innovative ways to deal with a situation rather than have an 'elitist approach and say we have decided, this is what is going to happen and we are not going to see the situation on the ground'.

Thrusting these decisions on poor students is very poor management of education, he said.

On the problem of many parents not being able to pay the fees of schools and colleges due to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, Sibal said the problem with a uniform policy of nobody paying fees is that a lot of students who have the capacity to pay fees will also not pay which will impact institutions which are self-financed.

'...the government has to come out with a policy, when I say government it is part of the national disaster management authority headed by the prime minister and nine of his government nominees,' he said.

Sibal said the committee should be discussing these issues with the relevant ministries and advising them what to do, who in turn will advise the state governments, but none of this is happening.

Universities and schools across the country have been closed since March 16 when the government announced a countrywide classroom shutdown to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. PTI ASK SMN SMN