The idea reeks of elitism, discrimination and absolute apathy on the part of University Administration.
The virus might have suddenly unveiled the longstanding disparity in India’s economy and its healthcare system but the fact that education to suffers from a democratic deficit is yet to be acknowledged by the masses. The disruption in the education sector needs to be a part of the conversation around Covid-19 but as always, the idea that education is a right and not a commodity seems to wither in the face of the unprecedented crisis.
While the UGC Committee Report released on 30th April, stresses on “maintaining the sanctity of the academic expectations”, we wonder at the astounding negligence of the specially-abled and the students from the weaker strata in their guidelines. Not only this, the mere confidence that “most of the institutions had already covered 60% to 70% of teaching-learning process for ongoing even semester before the dispersal of classes in March” is quite farcical, since months of January and February are academically bleak because of holidays, strikes and college fests. This year in particular because of the problematic situations around CAA-NRC protests, Delhi riots, etc.
The recommendation of an online exam by universities across the country and the heads up by the UGC is extremely incompatible to the very premise of a public university and inconsiderate to the reality that internet penetration level stands at just over 40 percent in India.
The proposal shows blatant neglect of the student’s troubles. Lack of access to stable connectivity and gadgets, lack of resources for students who went home for their midterm break, domestic workload, the inefficiency of online classes, not enough room at home for studying and most importantly the dwindling mental health. Perhaps the catchphrase of “learning from the comforts of one’s home,” is unfailingly assuming.
According to Quint, 6.7 percent of only Delhi University students have no access to an internet connection, 10.9 percent have 2G mobile internet, more than 8 percent students don’t have smartphones, laptops or tablets. Surveys have revealed that nearly 41.2 percent of the students could not attend online classes during the lockdown. Another survey has revealed that about 85% of students of the University of Delhi have voted against online exams. Still, our cries have fallen on deaf ears.
Open book exam
The other reservation that we have with the format is the ambiguity of the open book exams. The OBE requires a different type of tutelage to which we have never been exposed. As per a letter issued by Delhi University to the HODs of the departments on 13th May, the OBE questions should “test the analytical skills with no scope of copying from books and study material.” This proposition appears rather scheming to us and blind to the fact that students struggled with their studies during the pandemic. We have not been able to absorb all subjects with equal ease. Also, the students have not been provided with any sample question papers on the proposed structure. It is only before a week of the exams that students will be provided with mock papers. Even the DUTA President affirmed that surveys have questioned the viability of MCQ or OBE for all curriculums across public universities.
The other rules mentioned in the letter are stringent and unfair. The question paper still carries 75 marks, but the duration of the exam has been reduced to 2 hours. The board has been kind enough to give an extra hour for downloading the question paper, scanning the answers and uploading them back to the portal. There will be no means to hold anyone accountable for the procedures, no credibility or fairness in the process from the students’ side as well as from the evaluators’ side.
The academic calendar proposes the results would be declared by 31st July. The hastily done evaluation would be the last nail in the coffin. Chances of scoring what one is worthy of is doubtful in this education system, which has no transparency and a cumbersome and costly process of revaluation.
The additional opportunity
UGC’s recommendation to allow the students improve their grades by offering “one additional opportunity” seems highly oblivious to the fact that final year students would be struggling with their placements or further study plans in the coming months and that looking back for an increment in scores, the chances of which are equally uncertain, would be their last priority. Not to forget, appearing again in the exam will not be free of cost.
Throughout the pandemic, there has been no special aid to assist the specially-abled in learning course material. While our problems revolve around lack of infrastructural facilities, they need qualified scribes. Two extra hours won’t be of much help in resolving the deep-seated issues in the entire operation of online exams. Not once were their grievances addressed. Yet again the education system has failed them.
The idea is not to bring education to a complete standstill but to roll back the exclusionary decision. A feasible alternative should be followed after negotiations with teachers and the student body and a level playing field should be created where the extent to which one can score is not bound by their social, economic, and geographical standing.
By Snigdha and Pratyusha