Examination priorities: On annual exams amid the pandemic

Mass vaccination ahead of public examinations can reduce stress for students

The decision to put off the CBSE Class 12 public examination and cancel the Class 10 examination at the end of a disrupted academic year brings much-needed relief to anxious students caught on the crest of the second COVID-19 wave. Unlike last year’s first phase of the pandemic, the ongoing wild spread covers young people as well. The age cohort of those infected now includes even 15-year-olds, according to the Health Ministry. It is a wise move on the Centre’s part to keep this risk group out of harm’s way, reducing the possibility of school-based clusters and onward spread to older age groups who have shielded themselves so far. The onus is now on State governments, some of which have already initiated the examination schedule, to similarly recognise the growing crisis and display flexibility in reconsidering dates. Kerala had, for instance, postponed its SSLC and higher secondary level examinations due to the State election, but these got under way immediately thereafter. Tamil Nadu, which too conducted an Assembly poll, has scheduled school public examinations throughout May. What State governments should be focusing on is enhancement of the efficiency of vaccination rollout, using available vaccines and new ones in the pipeline. This effort will be greatly helped if there is undivided attention devoted to covering all age groups at the earliest, using the enhanced supply.

With an unwavering focus on providing vaccine protection to its entire population, the U.S. has advanced its target dates in almost all States to include all those above age 16. University leaders are also pursuing policies to normalise campus-based education that envisage universal vaccination of all college students. Further, there is promise on the vaccine front for school-goers, with Pfizer-BioNTech, after trials on younger recipients, seeking regulatory permission to cover children aged 12 to 15 in the U.S. under emergency-use authorisation norms. Two other vaccine makers are due to report on trials on young recipients. If the results prove to be robust, this is a promising way forward to reopen campuses for children without major disease worries. Yet, while they may succeed with vaccination, where many countries are failing is in addressing the mental health challenges of freedom-constrained children and youth. The problem must be acknowledged, and they must be reassured through publicised talk therapy and counselling, a task that calls for a partnership between educational institutions and the public health system. Over the next few weeks, governments should prioritise vaccinations for the general population, and the resulting control over infections would make the public examination season smooth for students.

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