Anannya Tayal is anxious. The 18-year-old from Gurugram, Haryana, sits idly scrolling through her phone, chatting with friends, watching videos, or reading the news. She, like most of her peers, is waiting for the Indian government to make a decision about the grade 12 board exams conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). For Tayal and many other students, nothing else matters at the moment.
The government is currently trying to decide the fate of thousands of grade 12 CBSE students, as parents, advocates, and students demand the cancellation of exams amid the ongoing and deadly pandemic which has already claimed over 150,000 lives since the onslaught of the second wave.
In April, the CBSE had announced the cancellation of the grade 10 board exams and the postponement of grade 12 exams in view of the pandemic. While many grade 10 students heaved a sigh of relief, it meant even more uncertainty for their older counterparts, who are on the cusp of choosing their intended career paths.
While the government is nearing a decision on how best to conduct exams after keeping students waiting through the second wave, with some states suggesting the exams be cancelled or students be graded based on internal assessments, the precariousness of it all is taking a heavy toll on the mental health of students. “I have never been this anxious before. I just don’t feel like studying, or doing anything, looking at the situation,” Tayal told Re:Set. Her mother, Anu Mittal worries and wonders why the government is delaying its decision. “They should end the stalemate. My child is hooked on to the screen, has become withdrawn and doesn’t take interest in anything nowadays,” she said, adding that students lack motivation right now, which the government seems to be ignoring.
The prolonged limbo is spiking students’ anxiety more than anything. “CBSE could say tomorrow that the exams will be held in a month, and we would have to suck it up and give them, which is not fair,” a 17-year-old student from Delhi, who asked to remain anonymous, told Re:Set. But the endless wait for the bomb to drop is not the only thing weighing on students’ minds.
The raging second wave of COVID-19 has seen the country’s healthcare system collapse with the national capital being particularly hard hit. Mental health helplines have seen a 40% increase in calls for help as many Indians are pleading on social media to source lifesaving essentials.
Harrowing news coupled with family and friends testing positive and fighting to stay alive has put many teenagers into high-pressure environments where they are dealing with the tumultuous task of being caregivers and are being forced to confront the harsh realities of mortality at a young age.
“Weeks after my school reopened for practicals my best friend tested positive, and a few days after that, my family and I got COVID-19. My mother has been in the ICU for a month now. Board exams are not the first thing on my mind right now, I have to take care of my family,” another 17-year-old CBSE student from Delhi, who asked to remain anonymous, told Re:Set. The student further added that online learning and the need to isolate further worsened her mental health.
The Indian government’s delay in making a decision is also affecting the students’ future plans.
Many students find themselves unable to focus. “It’s difficult studying for an exam when your teachers have passed away, you know?” the student said.
While students struggle to find coping techniques, with some parents like Mittal taking to slotting dedicated no-screen hours and family game nights, the Indian government’s delay in making a decision is also affecting the students’ future plans. “I have applied to a few colleges, but they will still need my board exam results and a certificate,” a student said.
But all hope is not lost. Most universities are willing to extend their intake dates to accommodate this unusual situation, said Akshay Chaturvedi, founder and CEO of Leverage Edu, an education consultancy platform. “A lot of Indian universities, both private and public, have extended deadlines and moved their semester dates in view of the postponement. Even universities in the U.S., U.K., and Canada are open to taking students in January if they miss their September intake,” Chaturvedi told Re:Set. The only roadblock, he said, is the Indian government, as students are finding it extremely difficult to get visa appointments in order to travel abroad.