Explained: Issues and Arguments in Maharashtra Student Protest Demanding Cancellation of Class 10, 12 Examinations

YouTuber and social media influencer Vikas Fhatak aka Hindustani Bhau has been arrested, police said Tuesday, February 1, a day after hundreds of students incited by Fhatak took to the streets in Mumbai, Nagpur and other places in the state to demand the cancellation of the Council’s offline exams for grades 10 and 12.

The unexpected protests, which took officials by surprise, erupted after an Instagram video of Fhatak urging students to rally in Dharavi went viral.
The 41-year-old YouTuber, a former contestant on reality show Bigg Boss, appeared in a Bandra Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday afternoon with an alleged assistant named Ikrar Khan (25). The two men were taken into custody until February 4.

Attorney General Prasad Joshi told the court that Fhatak was a “recidivist” and that he was “arrested at a luxury hotel where he was staying in a room reserved in someone else’s name”. Joshi argued that “it is not possible that more than 800 students came [to protest] by them selves. We want to know who paid for their stay at the hotel and we suspect that an organization is behind sending the students.”

State Department of Education officials said the decision to hold the exams was made after months of deliberation and no viable alternative was available. It was reiterated that the exam will take place and it will be conducted in the traditional offline paper and pen format.

What exactly happened on Monday? What were the student protesters demanding?

The students first started gathering outside the residence of Maharashtra School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad in Dharavi, Mumbai. Reports soon started coming in of similar gatherings in places such as Nagpur and Jalgaon.

In some places, the crowd turned violent. It was noticed that there were no girls among the protesters anywhere in the state. All participants were Fhatak’s social media followers.

Students shouted slogans demanding that Council exams be either canceled or held in online format. They said academics had been badly affected by the conditions of the pandemic and had been unable to prepare for the Council exams. They demanded that exams be canceled or, since most of the academic year had been spent online, be moved online.

Was the video posted by the internet celebrity the only provocation to this outburst?

It was pointed out that a growing clamor from a section of students demanding the exam be canceled had long been ignored by the education department. During the academic year, concerns have been raised over Maharashtra State Board exams, particularly after other boards changed their pattern to accommodate pandemic disruptions and decided to hold two quarterly exams .

“With the onset of the third wave of Covid, these worries and anxieties increased as pupils realized that their counterparts from other boards had already completed a term exam,” said Jaywant Kulkarni, a head teacher at a school. from Mumbai. According to Kulkarni, “some people have used the confusion to politicize the issue.”

Bandopant Bhuyar, State Chairman of the Coaching Class Teachers Federation, said: “It is important that the government takes proactive measures to understand the real opinion of genuine students who are serious about studies and communicate clearly. with them.”

What overall percentage of students agree with the protesters’ demands?

Compared to the huge number of students taking the Council’s exams, the number of protesters on Monday was insignificant. It’s reasonable to assume that the majority of students appearing for counseling want the exams to take place – and to take place in traditional offline mode.

Several students The Indian Express spoke to said that Covid had been a hugely disruptive aberration, that they would like to get back to normal as soon as possible and that pen and paper mode was the most natural and best option comfortable for exams. .

“The state board should have devised new assessment methods given the conditions of the pandemic, instead of relying solely on offline examination; however, I don’t think canceling the exam will do any good,” said Shantanu Ghag, a student from Dahisar.

“A lot of us were waiting for the exam,” Ghag said. “We were also unable to sit for class 9 exams due to the second wave of Covid. Now if they cancel the exam and a formula like last year is used again to report the results, we will be at a disadvantage.

Last year (2020-21), the State Council canceled the exams and declared the results based on a formula that combined internal assessments and academic performance of a student in grades 9 and 10. The pass percentage reached an all-time high, and educators strongly criticized the result, saying it mocked assessments.

The final pass percentage for class 10, SSC, was 99.95% and for class 12, HSC, 99.63%.

Why is the Department of Education opposed to the online mode?

For practical reasons. Sharad Gosavi, chairman of the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Education (MSBSHSE), said the biggest challenge was the number of students and the big differences in their circumstances.

“Over 31.5 lakh students registered for class 10 and 12 exams in Maharashtra. About 70% of the students come from rural areas, many of them from tribal areas. In a pilot study by the Maharashtra State Council for Educational Research and Training (MSCERT), it was found that barely one in three students had a mobile device, and even that may be a shared device. “said Gosavi.

Officials said that to conduct exams online, provision would have to be made for a smartphone or computer for each candidate, which was not financially viable. Additionally, many schools are located in areas where network connectivity is spotty, weak, or unavailable.

Officials said that over the past few months several meetings had been held with technology providers such as Google and Tata Consultancy Services to discuss options, but given the numbers and demographics involved, no solution was found. could be found.

“We even discussed renting devices, but there are issues regarding rent, distribution and return of devices, repairs and damages, etc.,” Gosavi said.
Officials said they had also spoken to counterparts from other state councils like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Goa, and found that no viable alternative to offline exams was available. available.

In addition, there is the challenge of establishing question papers.

Vikas Garad, Deputy Director of MSCERT, which is responsible for research and training activities, said changing the scheme of questions to test students in online mode would present a major challenge, as would teacher training in the short time frame. of time available.

According to MSBSHSE data, there are almost 70 subjects in Class 10 and 158 in Class 12, which are taught in eight teaching materials. More than 150 questionnaires are expected to be set for Class 10 and more than 350 for Class 12, officials said.

“The process of developing the questionnaires, sending them out for approval, editing and printing takes about three months. Currently, we do not have an objective MCQ type questionnaire. If we want to organize online exams, we must adopt this model for which we must first train the teachers. Students should be oriented from Class 9 itself, teaching methodology should be reoriented, and students should be given practice questions and mock tests to prepare,” Gosavi said.

So will Monday’s protests and violence impact the Education Department’s plans?

The protest has been talked about, but the exam is not in danger of being canceled. Preparations for the examinations are underway. School Education Minister Gaikwad said the concerns raised by the protesting students would be discussed.

“The issues raised by student protesters will be discussed by educational and administrative experts with the aim of finding solutions. But canceling the exam cannot be an option,” Gaikwad said.

The state board reduced the exam schedule and announced that students will have more time to complete assignments because the pandemic may have caused them to lose touch with writing. The practice of having external examiners for practical assessment has been discontinued. After the protest, State Council officials will discuss putting in place more student-friendly measures.

Vasant Kalpande, Pedagogue and former Chairman of the Maharashtra State Board, said: “It is now important that the government stand firm as switching to online mode of assessment is not really an option. for an operation as vast as the examination of the Council of State”.

Educators and parents criticized Monday’s protests, including the violence that accompanied them.

“A similar protest was organized last year by students, including girls who had just peacefully participated in a dharna in Dadar demanding the cancellation of the exam. The violent nature of Monday’s protest may create a bad precedent if not handled properly,” said Madhav Suryavanshi, head teacher and principal of Shikshan Vikas Manch.

According to teachers, students and parents, the cancellation of exams last year made sense because there had been no school at all. “This year, schools in cities began offline operations in October 2021, and in rural areas, students in grades 8-12 have been taking in-person classes since July 2021. There is absolutely no reason to complain about the lack of opportunities to prepare for the Board exam,” Suryavanshi said.

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