COVID-19 and DU: An Inquisition Into the Proposed Online Examinations

“No 3G, No 4G. How will the students from J&K be able to give exams online? VC is forgetting, Kashmiris are an integral part of India and the administration must think of us as well while taking any decision.”

The above tweet posted by Sidharth Yadav, state secretary, ABVP Delhi, targeting the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University, summarises the concerns and anxiety among the students regarding recent developments on the issue of online examinations.

Twitter has been ablaze with posts of stakeholders protesting the decision to hold mandatory online open book examinations (OBE) for all the students enrolled in the final semester of various undergraduate programmes.Trending hashtags like #DUwithSolutions #DUAgainstOnlineExamination are being used to voice concerns and apprehensions. The backlash has been sparked due to a broad consensus among the university fraternity, which views the episode as an attempt by the administration to impose a regime of examination and evaluation on teachers and students that threatens to be disastrous for the student community.

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the university system

The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown since March 25 has plunged the educational system into an unprecedented quagmire. The problem is further exacerbated for Delhi University, which has a large number of students on its rolls who hail from various corners of the country. The situation has attained a disquieting proposition due to the absence of a broader consultation process with the stakeholders to address sensitive issues regarding the conduct of examination and evaluation process. This resultant chaos and confusion has generated scepticism in the minds of students.

Also read: ‘Unjust and Unfair’: DU Students Reject Online Semester Exams

Stakeholders across the board are critical of the functioning of the Vice-Chancellor for his lackadaisical approach. He is being severely criticised for deliberately sidelining statutory apex bodies like the Academic Council and Executive Council. The administration chose to discard the possibility of holding a webinar with the teacher and student representatives during the lockdown period to address the unprecedented burgeoning crisis looming on the horizon.

Allegedly, the Vice-Chancellor chose to arrive at vital decisions unilaterally in handpicked committees – with no efforts to address valid concerns of students and teachers on evolving issues.

OBE not an option

The recent notification by the university to conduct OBE for the students of the sixth semester has thrown up serious systemic questions.

OBE is ideally suited to teaching programmes that especially aim at developing the skills of critical and creative thinking. It entails unconventional strategies for preparing students to take those examinations. This requires far-reaching reformation in the teaching-learning process. Classes must include suitable tasks, discussions and other active processes where teaching is no longer constricted to a transfer of information from the teacher to student. Rather, it should encompass the training of the mind in certain intellectual skills. Thus open-book and closed-book systems are completely different modes of teaching-learning processes with different requirements of question papers that entail varied levels of preparedness of the examinee as well as the examiner.

Efficacy of the online classes

The mandatory online classes held during the lockdown period have ignited issues regarding the financial and digital divide in the nation. There are growing concerns that students from less-privileged backgrounds could be left behind in this digital educational trend. These fissures have become even more apparent now that students are physically removed from campuses and thus from resources such as libraries, computer labs and common spaces.

The quality of online classes depends squarely on the environment and equipment available to the students which puts poorer students at a disadvantage. Online classes could significantly affect the learning opportunities and education outcomes among poorer families in the low-income categories.

Also read: Why Online Examinations Make For Unfair Testing

The university can hardly choose to overlook burdens that the online education system imposes on students hailing from such economically weaker segments. These disparities put a serious question mark on the efficacy of online classes.

Digital divide the biggest handicap

The “digital divide” affects any online education process. Conspicuously, students belonging to remote areas and disadvantageous sections of society lacking proper digital infrastructure will be handicapped by the decision of the university to go for OBE.

The issue of availability of resources in the form of books, e-books and notes for students who were stuck in their hometowns amidst the lockdown is also subject of common concern. The OBE shall favour students belonging to urban areas having access to necessary resources. The digital divide has wider cultural connotations as well It’s manifested in the way students use computers and their readiness for imbibing digital learning which puts severe handicap to OBE.

The proposed alternatives by the stakeholders

The plausible iconoclastic but efficacious propositions to the overarching predicaments of examinations truly lie in open-minded consultative processes to churn out effective and acceptable alternatives to OBE that can secure the future of lakhs of students..

There is a broad consensus among the university community that multiple options be extended to students to take examinations through various online, offline and deferred modes. Dr V.S. Negi, a member of the Executive Council, counsels that such decisions should be taken post due deliberations at appropriate forums mandated by statutes of the University. DUSU president Akshit Dahiya lamented that VC had summarily failed to address the concerns emanating out of the student community even after DUSU had submitted a set of feasible solutions.

The discerning teacher community under the leadership of DUTA has enumerated novel and innovative solutions to address the hitches faced. DUTA President Dr Rajib Ray suggested that decentralisation and a multi-modal approach towards the conduct of examinations and evaluation as the only way forward to end the impasse.

A section of elected representatives has suggested that the entire process of examination and evaluation should be decentralised and handed over to the individual colleges. This will ensure that students are evaluated on the syllabus which they have been taught. Dr A.K. Bhagi, a former member of the Executive Council, proposes that since third year students have already undergone rigorous evaluation for the past five semesters and internal evaluation for the sixth semester, the suitable procedure may be evolved to assign grades to them. This is an unprecedented but logical step as these students have already amassed the required credits under the CBCS curriculum which has ensured them their graduation degree.

On the issue of conduct of examinations by the university, it is pointed out that both offline and online mode should be made available to students, and that the offline mode of examination is feasible along with necessary social distancing norms with a decreased duration of test papers and multiple sessions of examination. Other suggestions put forward include that the students of the second year and first year be promoted via the ‘carry forward method’ to the next semester with a mandatory requirement to appear in examinations conducted after the lockdown is lifted.

Every crisis creates corrections, adjustments and self-evaluation. It is hoped that the churning of ideas among the stakeholders of the university would usher a new path for the benefit of the educational system in this country.

Dr Parthasarathi is an associate professor at Maharaja Agrasen College, University of Delhi, whose areas of interests include media studies, LGBTQ issues and Physics. Grishma Kumari is a budding journalist and recently graduated from IIMC, Delhi.

Featured image credit: Flickr