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Explained: Issues and arguments in the Maharashtra student protest demanding cancellation of Class 10, 12 exams

Social media influencer Vikas Fhatak aka Hindustani Bhau has been arrested, a day after hundreds of students instigated by him took to the streets in Mumbai, Nagpur and some other places to demand cancellation of offline Board exams. What exactly happened?

Written by Pallavi Smart , Alifiya Khan , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai, Pune |
Updated: February 2, 2022 12:45:55 pm
Hindustani Bhau (left); protests in Nagpur

YouTuber and social media influencer Vikas Fhatak aka Hindustani Bhau has been arrested, police said on Tuesday (February 1), a day after hundreds of students instigated by Fhatak took to the streets in Mumbai, Nagpur, and some other places in the state to demand cancellation of offline Board exams for Classes 10 and 12.

The unexpected protests, which took officials by surprise, erupted after a video by Fhatak on Instagram urging students to gather in Dharavi went viral.

The 41-year-old YouTuber, a former contestant on the reality show Bigg Boss, was produced before a magistrate court in Bandra on Tuesday afternoon along with an alleged aide named Ikrar Khan (25). Both men were remanded in police custody until February 4.

Public prosecutor Prasad Joshi told the court that Fhatak was a “habitual offender”, and had been “arrested from a luxurious hotel where he was staying in a room booked in someone else’s name”. Joshi argued that “it is not possible that over 800 students came [to protest] on their own. We want to find out who paid for his hotel stay and we suspect some organisation is behind sending the students”.

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Officials of the state education department have said that the decision to conduct the exams was taken after months of deliberations, and no viable alternative is available. It has been reiterated that the exam will be held, and that it will be in the traditional paper-and-pen offline format.

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

Students first started gathering outside the residence of Maharashtra School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad in Mumbai’s Dharavi. Reports started coming in soon about 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 the participants were followers of Fhatak on social media.

The students shouted slogans demanding that the Board exams should be either cancelled or held in online format. They said that academics had been severely impacted by the conditions of the pandemic, and they had been unable to prepare for the Board exams. They demanded that the exams be cancelled 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 for this outburst?


It has been pointed out that an increasingly loud clamour from a section of students seeking cancellation of the exam had been ignored by the education department for long. Through the academic year, concerns had been raised about the Maharashtra State Board exams, especially after other boards changed their pattern to adjust to pandemic disruptions, and decided to hold two term exams.

“With the beginning of the third wave of Covid, these concerns and anxieties increased as students realised that their counterparts from other boards had already completed one term exam,” Jaywant Kulkarni, a senior teacher from a Mumbai school, said. According to Kulkarni, “some people used the confusion to politicise the issue”.

Bandopant Bhuyar, state president of the Coaching Classes Teachers’ Federation, said: “It is important for the government to take proactive steps to understand the real opinion of genuine students who are serious about studies, and communicate clearly with them.”

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

Compared to the very large number of students who take the Board examinations, the number of protesters on Monday was insignificant. It is reasonable to assume that the bulk of the students appearing for the Boards want the exams to be held — and to be held in the traditional offline mode.


Several students that The Indian Express spoke to said that Covid has been an immensely disruptive aberration, that they would like to return to normalcy as soon as possible, and that the pen-and-paper mode was the most natural and comfortable option for the exams.

“The state Board should have devised novel ways of assessment considering the pandemic conditions, instead of depending solely on one offline exam; however, I do not believe that cancelling the exam will do any good,” Shantanu Ghag, a student from Dahisar said.


“Many of us have been waiting for the exam,” Ghag said. “We were not able to appear for the Class 9 exams either due to the second wave of Covid. Now if they cancel the exam and a formula like last year is used again to declare the results, we will be at a disadvantage.”

Last year (2020-21), the state Board cancelled the exams, and declared results based on a formula that combined internal assessments and the academic performance of a student in Classes 9 and 10. The pass percentage shot to an all-time high, and educationists criticised the outcome heavily, saying it made a mockery of assessments.


The final pass percentage for Class 10, SSC, was 99.95 per cent, and for Class 12, HSC, 99.63 per cent.

Why is the education department averse to the online mode?

Due to practical reasons. Sharad Gosavi, chairman of the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (MSBSHSE) said the biggest challenge lay in the number of students and the vast differences in their situations.

“More than 31.5 lakh students have registered for the Class 10 and 12 Board exams in Maharashtra. About 70 per cent of students come from rural areas, including many from tribal areas. In a pilot study done by the Maharashtra State Council for Education 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,” Gosavi said.

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

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

“We even discussed renting devices but there are issues around the rent, handing out and getting back the devices, repairs, and damage, etc.,” Gosavi said.
Officials said they had also spoken to counterparts in other state Boards like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Goa, and found that no viable alternative to offline exams was available.

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

Vikas Garad, deputy director, MSCERT, which is responsible for research and training activities, said changing the pattern of questions to test students in the online mode would present a major challenge, as would providing training to teachers within the short time available.

According to MSBSHSE data, there are nearly 70 subjects in Class 10 and 158 in Class 12, which are taught in eight mediums of instruction. More than 150 question papers would have to be set for Class 10, and more than 350 for Class 12, officials said.

“The process of setting question papers, sending them for approvals, corrections, and printing them takes about three months. Currently we do not have objective MCQ-type question papers. If we want to conduct online exams, we have to move to that pattern for which we need to train teachers first. The students need to get oriented from Class 9 itself, the teaching methodology needs to be re-oriented, and students need to be given practice question papers and mock tests to prepare,” Gosavi said.

So will Monday’s protests and violence have any impact on the education department’s plans?

The protest was talked about, but the exam is not likely to be cancelled. Preparations to hold the exams are ongoing. School Education Minister Gaikwad has said the concerns raised by the protesting students would be discussed.

“Issues raised by the protesting students will be discussed by experts in education and the administration with an aim to provide solutions. But cancelling the exam cannot be an option,” Gaikwad said.

The state Board has cut the examination syllabus and announced students will get extra time to finish the papers because the pandemic may have resulted in their losing touch with writing. The practice of having external examiners for practical assessment has been dropped. Following the protest, state Board officials will discuss bringing in more student-friendly measures.

Educationist and former chairman of the Maharashtra State Board Vasant Kalpande said, “It is important now for the government to stand firm because moving to the online mode of assessment is not really an option for an operation as vast as the state Board exam.”

Educationists and parents have criticised Monday’s protests, especially the violence that accompanied them.

“A similar protest was held last year by students, including girls who just peacefully participated in a dharna in Dadar asking for cancellation of the exam. The violent nature of Monday’s protest can set a bad precedent if not dealt with properly,” Madhav Suryavanshi, a senior teacher and director of the Shikshan Vikas Manch, said.

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

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First published on: 01-02-2022 at 10:07:13 pm
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