Nearly 1,700 ISC examinees will write their rescheduled English-II paper after sundown on March 16 because of a religious custom that prohibits followers of the Seventh Day Adventist Church to do any work before dusk on a Saturday.
The Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations blames a packed calendar for breaking with convention to slot the paper, originally scheduled for March 4, on the Sabbath or what the Adventist church considers the holy seventh day.
The exam had to be rescheduled after the English-II question paper was mistakenly distributed at Lucknow’s St. Dominic School on the day of the English-I test.
When institutions run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church protested the decision to hold the English-II test on a Saturday, the council came up with a previously unheard of time slot for a school exam: 5pm to 8pm.
Not only that, examinees from the Adventist schools have been asked to report at their institutions by 1.45pm on the day of the exam to eliminate the possibility of someone relaying the contents of the question paper from centres where the test would be held from 2pm to 5pm.
The episode is reminiscent of Eric Liddell’s refusal to run a 100m heat in the 1924 Olympics on a Sunday, immortalised in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire (see chart).
While the Adventist church considers Saturday as the Sabbath, most other Christian denominations regard Sunday as the holy day.
“We could not have deferred the exam twice,” said Gerry Arathoon, secretary and chief executive of the council that governs ICSE and ISC schools. “Considering the inconvenience caused to the Adventist-run schools, the council has decided to hold the exam separately for them from 5pm to 8pm on March 16.”
Besides spending almost six hours in school to write one exam, the 1,700 examinees caught in the date clash won’t be allowed to keep mobile phones and other electronic gadgets once they enter the premises by 1.45pm.
The schools have been asked to provide refreshments to the examinees for the extra hours that they would be confined to the examination centre.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church runs 27 schools across the country, of which four are in Bengal. One of these is a Park Street institution and the rest are in Jalpaiguri, Kalimpong and Naxalbari. But only the Seventh Day Adventist Church schools on Park Street and Jalpaiguri offer ISC.
A source said 76 students were writing the ISC exam from the Park Street school and around 100 from Jalpaiguri. Although a mutually acceptable solution seems to have been worked out, officials of the Adventist church are unhappy about the council scheduling the exam on a Saturday.
“The holy Bible tells us that the seventh day is the day of rest of the Lord. We cannot work from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday…. There has been an unwritten understanding between the council and the Adventist church for the past 54 years that no major (ICSE or ISC) exam would be slotted on a Saturday,” said a teacher in the Park Street school.
ISC 2013 ends on March 25 and the national competitive exams start in the first week of April.
A council official said stretching ISC beyond March 25 would have meant curtailing the time available to students to prepare for the entrance tests. “Only Saturdays were available between now and then and the council had to choose one of these.”
Nearly 60,000 examinees are appearing for the ISC exam across the country. English, comprising two papers carrying 100 marks each, is taught as a compulsory first language in schools under the ISC council.