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The facade of online exams

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By Ishfaq-ul-Hassan

Inside a well-laid-out room, three kids are busy writing their term exams. Though it is supposed to be an online exam, teachers have asked the students to write answers on paper sheets and upload them on the school website or send it on WhatsApp in PDF format.

Giggling, doom scrolling, munching, kids enjoy every bit of their new exam experience. No prying eyes of the invigilator, no time constraint, and no cheating taboo. 

 

A call for lunch infuses new energy. Three hours into the exam, the kids have not attempted even one question.  On the dining spread, kids fight over chicken leg pieces, caring too little about their exam. After the order is restored, the kids go back to the room. It takes more than half an hour to warm up and pick up a pencil to write the exam. After too much labor, kids finish writing answers to two questions. 

Ting-tong, it is a break time! A packet of chips comes handy and they munch it so fast as if they have not eaten for days.

A few minutes later, the mother enters the room to check the progress. After flipping through answer sheets, she grimaces. Children seem hardly bothered. After munching potato chips, they demand juice and biscuits. The mother asks them to finish the exam before their demands are met. 

Promises are made to be broken. Every mother feels that their kid is hungry even if he or she eats tonnes of rice and mutton. Mother takes out her scooty, buys a bag full of junk food, and rushes back home. After half an hour, she again enters room-cum-exam hall.  Smiles return on kids’ faces as they hear the crackling noise of junk food packets.  A tug of war ensues as mom insists on seeing paper first. Kids want food first. A ceasefire ensues and both parties exchange the weaponry. Mom is shocked to see that the kids are stuck at the point where she saw them last. By the time she reacts, kids swooped down on junk food, munching it as if there is no tomorrow.  

As the clock strikes four, mom calls for an evening tea. Kids race to the kitchen as if they were released from jail. After having `nunchai’, kids reluctantly go back to the room to finish unfinished work. It has been six hours since they started writing the exam. Usually, the exam is for two and a half hours at school. Here, even six hours fall short for finishing the exam. After so much toil, kids finish their paper. Mom immediately clicks pictures and sends them to concerned teachers.  

As dusk sets in, it is TV time for kids. From Doraemon to Shin Chan, children flip channels to watch favorite toon characters in action.

Welcome to the façade of the online exam in Kashmir. Pandemic has not only impacted the health of people, but it has also severely impaired the serenity of the educational system. Schools are in a race to complete the syllabus and kids are habitual offenders. Parents cuddle kids as if they have conquered the battlefield.

It needs to be changed if we have to save the future of kids. A pandemic cannot be an excuse for producing degree-holder illiterates. Online education was a necessary evil after the pandemic. But it cannot be a rule. Education honchos need to think out of the box and help the kids to acquire knowledge not degrees. Otherwise, we will have an army of degree holders bereft of education.   

A recent research study  by Azim Premji University maintained that school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a complete disconnect from education for the vast majority of children or inadequate alternatives like community-based classes or poor alternatives in the form of “online education, including mobile phone-based learning.”

Titled `Loss of Learning during the Pandemic’, the study covered 16067 children in 1137 public schools in 44 districts across five states. It focused on the assessment of four specific abilities each in language and mathematics, across classes 2-6. These four specific abilities for each grade were chosen because these are among the abilities for all subsequent learning – across subjects – and so the loss of any one of these would have very serious consequences on all further learning.

“One complete academic year has elapsed in this manner, with almost no or little curricular learning in the current class. But this is only one kind of loss of learning. Equally alarming is the widespread phenomenon of ‘forgetting’ by students of learning from the previous class – this is a regression in their curricular learning,” the study said.

 The key findings of the study showed 92% of children on average have lost at least one specific language ability from the previous year across all classes, and 82% of children on average have lost at least one specific mathematical ability from the previous year across all classes.

(Author is senior editor at The Kashmir Monitor. Email: [email protected])