The Tamil Nadu government school teachers Association (TNGSTA) has submitted a petition to chief minister M.K. Stalin to cancel the state’s unique class XI board exams. This exam is scheduled to be written in March-April by 1 million students enrolled in 39,300 government and government-aided schools affiliated with the Tamil Nadu Board of Secondary Examinations (TNBSE). According to TNGSTA, because of the prolonged pandemic lockdown — 20 months — schools, teachers were unable to complete the syllabus, and the majority of students were unable to attend classes. Though schools reopened for class X-XII students on September 1 last year, class XI students attend on alternate days to maintain social distancing. Moreover in late December, all schools were ordered to lock down again to check spread of the new Omicron variant of the Coronavirus and reopened on February 1.
“In the academic year 2021-2022, because of the prolonged schools’ closure, students attended in-person classes only sporadically. Unfortunately many couldn’t attend online classes regularly and even among those who logged-in online, comprehension and learning outcomes are not satisfactory. Moreover, though government reduced the syllabus by 40 percent, many schools haven’t completed this truncated syllabus. Therefore, given these exceptionally difficult circumstances, we want the class XI board exam for 2021-22 cancelled,” says James Sathya Raj, principal of the state board-affiliated K-12 St. John’s Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai.
In this connection, it’s pertinent to note that Tamil Nadu is the only state countrywide to mandate a class XI board exam in addition to the normative class X and XII boards. In 2017-18, the then AIADMK-led government introduced class XI board exams with the objective of improving the performance of TNBSE school students in competitive exams such as the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), since these exams give some weightage to the class XI syllabus.
Though educators, parents and students in the state are almost unanimous that the sui generis class XI boards should be cancelled in light of the huge disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, educationists caution against a precedent being set for its permanent cancellation. Many academics believe that the introduction in 2018 of class XI boards contributed towards improved learning outcomes of students in TNBSE-affiliated schools.
“Prior to introduction of class XI board exams, many schools used to skip the class XI syllabus to focus on preparing students for the all-important class XII school-leaving exam. But with class XI boards becoming mandatory in 2018, schools started teaching the class XI syllabus seriously. For instance in my school since 2018, students’ class XI and XII results have improved significantly,” says Priyanka Nandhakumar, secretary at Sri Sankara Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai.
Although informed educationists are almost unanimous that the class XI board exam is superfluous in these pandemic times, they warn that cancellation of this exam should be a one-time solution. Right now, the state’s politicians and academy need to focus their energies on devising intensive remedial education programmes to make good children’s massive learning loss during India’s 82 weeks — a dubious world record — education lockdown.
Shivani Chaturvedi (Chennai)