A country-wide National Achievement Survey (NAS), aimed at assessing learning loss among school students due to disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, will be carried out on Friday. But the conduct of the survey, the first such since the pandemic broke out, will be hobbled by realities of delayed school reopenings and natural calamities.
In Tamil Nadu, for instance, with most schools closed following the red alert over the floods, the NAS exam is not likely to see any participation on Friday, especially from private schools. In Delhi and West Bengal, with attendance still voluntary, some of the schools selected for the sample survey have said they cannot ensure attendance.
In Odisha, the authorities are concerned over attendance given the statewide bandh called by the Congress on Friday. And in Bihar, top government officials said that with teachers away for Chhath puja, there could be logistical challenges in conducting the pen-and-paper exam.
The Ministry of Education has said that the survey is expected to cover 38 lakh students in nearly 1.23 lakh schools in 733 districts across 36 states and Union Territories in government, government-aided and private schools. The survey will cover students of classes 3, 5, 8 and 10.
In schools selected for the survey, each of the sample grades is required to have a standard-size batch of 30 students. With schools in states at different stages of re-opening for various grades, ensuring the required sample strength, particularly for the primary grades (Classes 3 and 5), is likely to be a challenge.
“All education institutes will be shut till Monday due to the rains. It is obvious that we cannot take part in the test till then due to this,” said K R Nandhakumar, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Private School Association.
In Delhi, while schools were permitted to fully reopen on November 1, some private schools have not yet opened for primary grades as an overwhelming number of parents have opted not to send their children yet amid pandemic concerns.
Two branches of Mount Carmel School — in Anand Niketan and Dwarka — which have been selected as sample centres for Classes 8 and 10, will not participate in the survey since they have opted not to open for any grades yet.
Dean Michael Williams said, “Three weeks ago, we sent across a survey to parents of students of classes 8 to 12 saying that we are interested in re-opening but around 85% said they will not send their children. I need to honour their decision, especially considering the festive season and the crowds we have seen. We have not called students of any grade to school,” he said.
The Delhi SCERT has ordered all district and zonal officers to “ensure that all categories of sample schools, including private schools in the sample list, are running with full attendance in the selected Grades on 12 November 2021”.
While other sample schools said they have reached out to parents of students in relevant grades and asked them to send their children to school on Friday, they said they cannot ensure compliance since physical attendance continues to be voluntary.
South Point School in Kolkata, for instance, has allowed students of Classes 3 and 5 to skip the survey. The school has argued that they are not bound to participate since their primary classes are not affiliated to CBSE.
Sushil Dhankar, owner of Hari Vidya Mandir in Delhi’s Sangam Vihar, an NAS centre for grades 3, 5, 8 and 10 but which has not reopened for children in primary and middle school, said, “Our teachers are calling parents personally and saying that the survey on Friday is mandatory. We are trying our best but ultimately, we cannot enforce their presence.”
Bihar’s Additional Chief Secretary Sanjay Kumar also predicted challenges in conducting the survey. “With 39% of our teachers being women and many of them observing Chhath (November 8-11), there could be some problems. We can’t help it. We are doing our best,” he said.
A senior official told The Indian Express that the Union government is aware that ensuring attendance for lower classes this year is likely to be a challenge. “But to account for such emergencies, we do over sampling. Even if 5% of our sample doesn’t turn up on the day, we should be fine,” said the officer.
Telangana, where schools were permitted to reopen on September 1, too expects challenges.
“Apart from maintaining Covid-19 safety protocols, the challenge is to ensure that schools which are yet to reopen are able to conduct the NAS exam,” said Telangana SCERT Director M Radha Reddy.
Meanwhile, some states are making special arrangements to ensure attendance on Friday. The Mizoram government has issued special orders through District Deputy Commissioners to open up designated schools on the day of the test. The Punjab government has been circulating practice papers for several weeks now to help students prepare for NAS and familiarise them with the OMR sheet.
The last NAS was held four years ago, on November 13, 2017. The NCERT has developed the framework for the assessment and it will be carried out by the CBSE in collaboration with state and UT governments. Children of Classes 3 and 5 will be assessed in Language, Mathematics & EVS; Language, Mathematics, Science and Social Science for Class 8; and Language, Mathematics, Science, Social Science and English for Class X.
(With inputs from Santosh Singh in Patna, Arun Janardhanan in Chennai, Sreenivas Janyala in Hyderabad, Santanu Chowdhury in Kolkata, Tora Agarwala in Guwahati, Aishwarya Mohanty in Bhubaneswar & Divya Goyal Gopal in Ludhiana)
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