The Supreme Court has directed the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) to fix the examination centres within a distance of 10 kilometres from the accredited institutions to enable students to appear in the examination with certainty and ease.
A vacation bench of Justices S A Nazeer and P S Narasimha said that a substantial number of students resorting to open schooling invariably come from rural areas.
"Most of these students come from poor strata of the society, depend on unreliable public transport and in all probability are employed for their livelihood. It is not difficult to imagine the consequences of inaccessible examination centres for such students. There is yet another factor. The primary, secondary, or senior secondary examinations invariably involve answering multiple papers spread over a period of time.
"Inability to travel long distances for each examination will only have the consequence of the student dropping out, which is the biggest challenge the country is facing today. It is interesting to note that the New Education Policy, 2020, in Chapter 6 records the beneficial effect of reducing the burden of distance to prevent dropping out from schools through group walks, provision of cycles, etc. for the socially and educationally disadvantaged groups," the bench said.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by a NIOS accredited institution seeking a direction from the NIOS to fix examination centres for open schooling students at a reasonable distance from their study centres, referred to as accredited institutions.
The prayer in the petition was for a direction to NIOS to evolve a policy of distance criteria while fixing the examination centres for the examinations conducted by NIOS.
The apex court said a duty is cast upon the NIOS to fix examination centres in a manner to enable students to appear in the examination with certainty and ease.
The bench said it is for NIOS to go an extra mile rather than expecting the students to walk long distances from villages and towns to take the examination.
"We are conscious of the fact that fixing examination centres is a sensitive duty involving security and continuous monitoring. We are also conscious of the fact that integrity in the conduct of examinations is as important as the education itself. Every step must be taken to prevent cheating and copying, which are antithesis to education.
"NIOS must have the freedom to identify, accept or reject an application offering to be an examination centre. While exercising that right, NIOS will also keep in mind its duty to provide accessibility of educational certification by enabling students to reach the examination centres," the bench said.
The top court said that while fixing the examination centres, NIOS shall be at liberty to take into account the credibility of the Institution offering to be an examination centre and such other factors as are necessary to ensure integrity of the examination including law and order.
"NIOS should develop and implement criteria with respect to fixation of examination centres that would be accessible from the Accredited Institutions with which the aspirants are connected.
"NIOS shall endeavour to fix the examination centres, within a distance of 10 kilometres from the Accredited Institutions with which they are connected," the bench said.
"We have no doubt that the Evaluation Committee as well as the Competent Authority of NIOS will bestow their full attention on issues that we have highlighted," it said.