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Govt's U-turn on Class 5, 8 board exams a relief for students, parents, teachers alike

Thirty-five-year-old Vijayalakshmi K, a homemaker at Nungambakkam in the city, heaved a sigh of relief when the television screen at her home flashed that Tamil Nadu government has decided to scrap board exams for Classes 5 and 8.

Govts U-turn on Class 5, 8 board exams a relief for students, parents, teachers alike
Illustration: Saai
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She had every reason to be happy, for her son is studying in Class-5 in a government-aided school in Nungambakkam. Vijayalakshmi was under severe stress ever since the School Education Department, in September last year, announced board exams for Classes 5 and 8 in line with the Union Ministry of Human Resources Development’s (MHRD’s) new education policy. “I didn’t know what to do as my son was not prepared for the exams. Since he hadn’t appeared for any exams from LKG onwards, we were least prepared for this sudden change,” she said.

The government’s board examination announcement evoked severe criticism from various stakeholders, including academicians in Tamil Nadu. Also, various political parties, including the principal opposition DMK, opposed the Directorate of Examination’s move.

Parents were also worried that the government may bring back the detention policy back if the students failed the exams. “There is no clarity from the School Education Department about the no-detention policy. This had put more pressure, not only among the parents but also students,” said P Lakshmanan, whose daughter is studying in Class 8 in a private school at Pammal near Chennai.

Lakshmanan said, out of fear, he even took the pain of sending her daughter to a nearby tuition centre at that age so as to help her clear the exam. “My daughter was repeatedly asking whether she would successfully clear the exams,” he said, adding “at one stage I also took my daughter for a counselling”.

Govt school students worst hit

The worst affected by the announcement of board examination were the students from the government and government-aided schools across the State since most of these schools had not received the textbooks for last semester. When Directorate of Examinations released the model question papers, it was a shock to the teachers since it was prepared from textbooks of last three semesters.

“The government had recently instructed all the government and government-aided schools in the State to start book banks where the old semester textbooks will be collected from the students. Therefore, most of the students have returned the books. This created a lot of confusion about how to distribute the books back to the students,” said K Nirmala Kumar, a Class 8 teacher at a government-aided school, in Nanganallur near the city.

She also said that the teachers were under tremendous pressure about whether all the portions would be covered before the board exams. “Many teachers took special classes by putting students under severe stress. The parents, who pick up the students from the schools, were also under pressure due to invariable special class timings,” she added.

“Since the free distribution of third and final semester textbooks for Classes 5 & 8 in government schools was delayed, most of the students, who are from economically poor family background, were forced to buy from retailers.

“My daughter, who is studying in Class 8 at a government school at Anakaputhur, did not receive her last semester textbooks. Since there was no other option, I was forced to purchase textbooks from a stationary shop at Pammal. I had to spend nearly Rs 1,000, which included the purchase of some guides, said B Shoba, who earns a living as a house maid.

Exams not in same school

As the preparation was in full swing, the government sprang a surprise, announcing that exam centres for the students will not be in their respective schools. This once again put the pressure back on parents, who had to take the pain in taking their kids to the exam centres elsewhere and come back home leaving other jobs. The Directorate of Examination said that Class 5 students will have to travel at least one kilometre to reach the exam centre and similarly, Class 8 students will have to go at least three kilometres to appear for the exams.

A senior official from the Directorate of Examination said the government plan for the students not to set up exam centre in their respective schools is because the teachers might help the students during exams. “The purpose of conducting exams will not be served,” he said.

After widespread opposition, Tamil Nadu School Education Department held discussions with various stakeholders and said students will write their board exams in their schools itself.

Cost to the exchequer

Soon after the announcement, the Tamil Nadu government ordered all the district education officers to work in full swing to conduct board exams for Classes 5 and 8.

Accordingly, the district education officers started identifying exam centres and prepared a list for their respective region and sent a report to the government.

A senior official from the School Education Department said the government had already collected Rs 20 crore from Classes 5 and 8 students, who had to appear for the board exams. Accordingly, the authorities have spent about Rs 25 lakh to print model question papers, which were distributed to all students, even those studying in private institutions.

“Besides, the government also spent about Rs 2 crore to print about 10 lakh question papers,” he said, adding, however, after the government announced the cancellation of board exams, the printing was stopped. The official also pointed out that the exam fees collected from the students will be returned.

Academicians’ point of view

Educationists in Tamil Nadu, who opposed the government move to conduct board exams for Classes 5 and 8, said even in future the School Education Department should not be thinking of holding exams for those students of Classes 5 and 8.

PB Prince Gajendra Babu, general secretary, State Platform for Common School System – Tamil Nadu (SPCSS-TN), said the Tamil Nadu government should also adopt a no-detention policy until the completion of elementary education.

“If there are issues like more school dropouts, identifying the learning difficulties the children face and addressing such issues would help,” he said.

He also noted that authorities must ensure smooth and happy school life without the stress of examination and detention at least up to the completion of elementary education.

Echoing similar views, Tamil Nadu Teachers’ Association President PK Ilamaran said students studying in Classes 5 and 8 do not have the maturity to understand the intricacies of a board exam. “Also, they may develop an inferiority complex if they are detained in the same class and put up with new students of younger age,” he said.

Ilamaran welcomed the government decision to scrap the exams and said that from the beginning itself the government was unclear about the initiative to conduct board exams at the elementary level. “This has created a lot of confusion and stress not only to the students but also to parents and teachers,” he added.

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