An initiative to benefit students has eventually been announced at the end of a virtually wasted year. The pen-and-paper format will be sustained in the ICSE and ISC exams.

Towards that end, there will be two months of the conventional on-campus classes before the formal exams next year. The chief executive and secretary of the council, Mr Gerry Arathoon, has acknowledged that online exams will not be practical in view of the problem of connectivity and availability of computers for a fairly large section of students.

Two months of rigorous classroom interaction will, therefore, have to be conducted in schools before the board exams. The objective, announced rather belatedtly, is to ensure, that students do attend school for practical classes, to complete the projects, for revision, and for clearing doubts.

This is remarkably rational and the chief regret must be that it has been unveiled rather late in the day, barely a few months before the two public exams.

The council chief has conveyed the message to the 1500-odd principals online, and it is fervently to be hoped that the traditional format will be revived without much ado on the part of the teachers, the taught and also, of course, the guardians.

The importance of sending children to school prior to the board exams will have to be underlined. Yet above all, the schools will have to be suitably sanitised so that the children are safe.

Indeed, the safety of students must be of overriding importance before they write their papers. The board exams are unlikely in February/March as the schools are yet to reopen. Students have attended online classes, but there is little doubt that they need to attend class for the wrap-up teaching lessons, practicals and eleventh-hour revision.

The schools have been closed since the last week of March this year and many institutions have been conducting online classes. But for practical classes, online experiments cannot serve the purpose; it is essential for students to do the laboratory work themselves.

The format proposed for ICSE and ISC schools can well be followed for Madhyamik and Higher Secondary institutions. But there are red herrings across the trail. Not all students have laptops and many are using smartphones, also an expensive proposition.

The grim reality must be that many students are not in a position to clear the fees, and the backlog must be considerable. The pretty obvious query must be: Can they buy a laptop?

There are parents who have suffered a salary cut as well, not to forget those who have lost their source of livelihood. It is, therefore, a complex problem with profound societal, economic and academic implications.

For West Bengal, where Assembly elections are scheduled in April/May, it is imperative for the Election Commission to announce the dates so that the ICSE/ISC council can finalise the attendance schedule.