As coronavirus lockdown puts brakes on academic activities in Maharashtra, HSC students face uncertain future

Students preparing for their HSC (Higher Secondary School Certificate) examinations are facing an uncertain future in Maharashtra, the state that presently accounts for the most cases of the novel coronavirus by far

Neerad Pandharipande June 02, 2020 11:25:39 IST
As coronavirus lockdown puts brakes on academic activities in Maharashtra, HSC students face uncertain future

Students preparing for their HSC (Higher Secondary School Certificate) examinations are facing an uncertain future in Maharashtra, the state that presently accounts for the most cases of the novel coronavirus by far. With schools and colleges shut since the middle of March, the academic cycle has been majorly disrupted, and is not likely to get back on track in the near future either.

By Monday, Maharashtra had reported 70,013 COVID-19 cases and 2,362 deaths due to the infection.

The Union home ministry's guidelines on reopening the economy after the coronavirus lockdown state that a decision on restarting educational institutes will only be taken in July. For now, however, the process of teaching the academic curriculum is way behind schedule, leaving many students anxious. One of them is Nivan Sadh, a Class 12 student of the HR College of Commerce and Economics in South Mumbai's Churchgate area.

Speaking to Firstpost, Sadh said, "Looking at the current situation in Mumbai, it doesn't look like classes in schools or colleges will begin again anytime soon. So, I don’t think they can finish the entire curriculum by January or February. Normally, the board examinations take place in the month of March. Taking that into consideration, we are at least four months behind the regular schedule."

Sadh further said, "Although we do try to understand the syllabus on our own, several subjects do need explanation by teachers. For example, one can't understand the curriculum of subjects like Accounts and Mathematics on one's own. In fact, at the time when educational institutions were closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, they had not been able to cover the last couple of chapters of Class 11 for several subjects. These chapters would have helped to link the previous year's curriculum with that of the current year."

However, he added, "It is true that while colleges are closed, several coaching classes are conducting online lectures via Zoom or other such means. However, even in the lectures conducted by the coaching centres, the pace of covering the syllabus is extremely slow. To be honest, even if classes are conducted online through apps like Zoom, it is not all that easy to follow what is being taught."

In addition to this, students who do not come from financially well-off families have it even tougher. A case in point is Ritik Patel, a resident of the suburb of Malad in northwest Mumbai, and a Class 12 student at the DTSS College of Commerce. Patel's father lost his job as a security guard recently. His mother worked as a domestic help till the lockdown began, and is presently working as a sanitation worker at a medical clinic. He said, "I do try to follow online lectures that my coaching class conducts. But my internet connection is quite erratic, and so it is difficult for me."

Mayank Lonkar, an HSC (science stream) student of Nagpur's MHK Sancheti Public School and Junior College, mentions yet another challenge for students. This year, the Maharashtra state board came out with new textbooks for Class 12 students, which only made their way to bookstores recently. Lonkar said, “Initially, the new textbooks were not available at all, because of which teachers were not sure which topics to cover and which ones to leave out. Later, we received PDF versions of the new textbooks. The hard copies arrived in bookstores just four or five days ago."

A report in The Times of India had quoted the director of a coaching institute in Nagpur as saying that this delay particularly affected students preparing for competitive examinations, as they would have to prepare for their HSC examination as well as the syllabus for exams to get admission to medical or engineering courses.

Lonkar said, "My college has sent students some videos which can help in terms of catching up with studies. However, there is no mechanism to ascertain the extent to which a student has managed to learn the course material."

Like Sadh and Patel, Lonkar too is largely dependent on his coaching class to remain up to speed with his HSC curriculum. He said, "I can understand what is being taught to a large extent. But most of the classes at my coaching institute are not live interactions, but are pre-recorded videos. So if we have any questions or doubts, those cannot be cleared immediately."

He remarked, “There is indeed a backlog in terms of teaching the curriculum. I think that authorities should either reduce the syllabus and hold the examination broadly on time; or let the syllabus remain unchanged, but hold examinations at a later date."

According to Sadh, the former option of these two is the more viable one. He said, "Some students will apply to foreign universities, and we cannot say as of now whether or not those universities will delay their admission processes. I think the exams can only be postponed till April or so. The Maharashtra state board should reduce the syllabus so that the curriculum can be completed on time."

Commenting on the possibility of syllabus cuts, Shakuntala Kale, the chairperson of the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, told Firstpost, "The government is presently assessing the question as to when educational institutes can be restarted in the state. A decision on whether to reduce the syllabus for the upcoming academic year will have to be taken by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT)."

While Kale has stated that the NCERT is responsible for deciding on syllabus cuts, the Karnataka state government appears to be mulling on implementing such a measure. The state's minister for primary and secondary education S Suresh Kumar has asked officials to prepare an action plan for "possible omission of excess chapters in textbooks of all classes". In April, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) had announced that students from Classes 9 to 12 will study a "rationalised syllabus" in view of the loss of time due to the coronavirus lockdown.

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