Kerala conducts the biggest mass exercise in the lockdown world; 1.3 million to take exams

In perhaps, the biggest exercise in the lockdown world, the Pinarayi Vijayan led Kerala government conducts state board examinations for class ten,  vocational higher secondary examinations (VHSE)  and HSE. Over five lakh students in the state appeared for the SSLC and VHSE which began on Tuesday wearing masks and adhering to the strict social distancing norms. Eight lakh students are expected to write the higher secondary exam which will commence on Wednesday. The total number of students taking the exams will be 13 lakhs (1.3 million) in the state.

Among the high density places in the state, schools, colleges and cinema theatres were among the first the state government had shut over the fear of the Covid-19 spreading in the beginning of March. The board examinations which were to be held in March were postponed after the nation-wide lockdown was put in place following the outbreak of the pandemic. Two months after the designated date, as many as 4.78 lakh students appeared for the SSLC examination held in this afternoon while 56,345 wrote the VHSE examinations held in the morning.  The examinations will continue till May 30.

A security guard ensures a student sanitizes her hands at the gate of Baker High School, Kottayam. Pic: Rajeev Prasad

 

The earlier decision was not to conduct examinations at hotspots. However, as the number of hotspots changed with each passing day, it became practically impossible to change the examination centres every day. Hence, the examinations were also conducted in red zones.

A massive sanitization process was put in place to ensure the safety of the students even as the number of Covid-19 cases spiked in the state. The fire force had disinfected all the 2945 centres across the state before the commencement of the examinations. Those with mild flu-like symptoms were asked to write the examinations in a separate room. General Education Department had also prepared a sanitised corridor at examination centres for students coming from hotspots and those placed under quarantine. A distance of 1.5 metres was made mandatory between the seats of those in quarantine or those having symptoms.

Director of General Education, K Jeevan Babu, said that the classrooms and furniture would be disinfected after the examinations. Students have been asked not to mingle and maintain social distancing, said Babu.

The invigilators were provided with triple-layer masks and gloves. A team of health officials were also present at each centre. The students underwent thermal screening at entry points of the schools. There was also a strict ban on of exchange of pens and other instruments with each other.

Temperature of students being taken before the examination on the first day in a government school in Kottayam; Pic: Rajeev Prasad

Students in quarantine and those with symptoms were asked to drop their answer sheets into a big plastic bag. Invigilators will seal this bag and take it to the evaluation camp on that day itself. These will be stored separately. Other students were asked to leave their answer sheets on the desks. Invigilators would pack them in paper bags and take it to evaluation camps. The evaluation will be done only after seven days.

Only one person was allowed to accompany the student to the exam centre.  This person was also asked to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Students and parents were also not allowed to crowd outside the exam centre.

DGP Loknath Behera said those teachers and other staff, who travel to other districts for examination duty, were asked to carry their ID card and documents related to the examinations.  No travel passes were needed for them. The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) operated additional 343 services for students. The students from Karnataka were provided bus service from Kerala border after they register with the web portal. Government had also directed head teachers to ensure transportation for students appearing for the exams. They were also asked to seek services of private vehicles, public transport, school bus, and vehicles of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA).

A student sanitizes his hand before entering the examination centre in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, Pic courtesy: Sabloo Thomas

Accommodation was arranged for the students from Karnataka as they were asked to undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine on reaching the state for the exams. Students have been asked to take a shower before interacting with family members on returning home from the examination. Students who are unable to write the examinations will have another chance alongside the Save a Year (SAY) examinations as regular students

As per the Guidelines issued by the Kerala Health department students, arriving from other states or Lakshadweep, were allotted a special exam centre or separate classrooms at the exam centres. The students in quarantine or those with symptoms were asked to wear triple layer masks while other students were allowed to wear cloth or surgical masks. Parents were not allowed to enter school premises. A total of 297 students, appearing for the examinations, were from Karnataka. Among them 33 wrote the exams near the border areas.  Arrangements were also put in place for students in the United Arab Emirates and Lakshadweep.

 Cover Image Credit: Rajeev Prasad

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