June 14, 2020

Hold Consultations on Education & Exams

THE unplanned and abrupt announcement of the national lockdown was made as the academic year was ending and many examinations were either in progress or were scheduled to take place. The sudden announcement has not just disrupted the academic year but has brought in uncertainty among students about their future. The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, in a statement issued on June 7, has said that while it has impacted all students, the disabled and the marginalised are the worst affected.

Instead of allaying the fears of lakhs of students who are under tremendous pressure and mental trauma and coming up with remedies that would ease their tensions and concerns, the central government is seeking to aggressively implement its retrograde new education policy, under the ruse of the pandemic.

Digital teaching and learning will only further accentuate the already existing divide between the haves and the have-nots. With internet penetration being as low as 39 per cent, it would leave out the overwhelming majority of our student community. Apart from availability of smart phones and computers at home, for the disabled there is the additional issue of availability of software and hardware to make these devices accessible. Currently, the discussions around the teaching and learning methods are not taking into cognisance the interests of students with disabilities. Additionally, the disabled are not a homogenous group – their issues are varied and so are their solutions.

Digital methods cannot be used to replace traditional pedagogical teaching in schools and colleges. In the absence of universal access to digital learning, even in the pandemic environment, governments should not go ahead implementing e-learning and e-exams.

The push for digital education militates against the provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. The RPD Act mandates inclusive education, differentiated teaching and peer support which is the antithesis to the concept of online education.

In this entire discussion, the issue of students with intellectual disabilities and their concerns are also not receiving any attention.

There is a mental health pandemic waiting to happen. Students especially those in schools are under great stress. The hurry to reopen schools online without heeding the consequences will have disastrous effects.

Many disabled students would be requiring the services of scribes for appearing for exams. If exams offline/online are conducted in the pandemic situation, there will be a huge scarcity of scribes. Students will also be unable to reach examination centres without compromising on their protection, which is difficult and in some cases impossible to maintain for certain categories of disabilities.

As hostels were vacated in a hurry, visually impaired students were unable to carry back their bulky braille books. Conduct of exams without their access to study material and without giving sufficient time would be an injustice.

The UGC proposal for promoting students of first and second years based on their performance in the last semester should also be made applicable to final year students.

The NPRD is of the firm opinion that such a major shift in learning, teaching and examination mode, which has an impact on the lives of future generations should not be rushed through without adequate consultation with all stakeholders, including representatives of disability rights organisations.