The conduct of first semester examinations of the restructured undergraduate programmes of all universities in the State, except the Kerala University, will be closely watched by both critics and votaries of the new scheme. A close look at the roll-out of the new plan.

When all universities in Kerala, save one, decided to introduce the choice-based credit and semester system for undergraduate courses from the current academic year, many doubted whether the varsities would be able to reorient the conduct of their examinations to suit the requirements of the new system. November is examination time for these universities, in more ways than one.

On November 11, more than 27,000 students of the new undergraduate programmes of the MG University would appear for their first semester examinations. These students would be spread across 75 courses and 115 affiliated colleges of the university.

In the Calicut University more than 25,000 students would appear for their first semester examinations on November 24 and, in the Kannur University, 12,000 would put pen to paper from November 18.

The conduct of these examinations, the evaluation of the answer sheets and the preparation and publication of the results would be closely watched by both critics and votaries of the restructured undergraduate programmes.

The smooth and timely completion of all these processes—critics would have to concede—implies that the universities in the State do have it in them to carry the load of the new courses.

On the other hand, any glitches in the conduct of these examinations would send out a clear signal that the varsities acted in haste in initiating the reforms and associated processes in this academic year. The Opposition United Democratic Front and its teachers’ organisations have consistently demanded that such major reforms in the higher education sector be effected—after more deliberations—the next academic year.

For sure, the universities do not seem to be counting on luck alone to see them through the first of the new examinations. According to information made available by the MG University to The Hindu-EducationPlus, the varsity has delivered hall tickets online to the individual colleges whose principals can download the nominal rolls from the varsity’s website.

Initially the MG university started an examination helpline in the office of the Pro-Vice Chancellor. Later it opened a second one in its examination branch( phone: 0481-2732412). The varsity has designed a special, 24-page answer booklet for use in the semester examinations.

This is for the first time that the university is using such a booklet which would also have a barcode designed to do away with the delay normally necessitated by the ages-old false numbering system. The Calicut and Kannur universities too would be using barcoded answer sheets for their first semester examinations.

Plans have also been put in place for the smooth conduct of the valuation camps at the universities. After detailed discussions with principals of affiliated colleges, the MG University has decided to open nine zonal evaluation centres; these camps would begin operations on November 20.

At each centre 3,000 answer sheets would be evaluated. At the Calicut University there would be four, district-wise, valuation camps and, at the Kannur university, there would seven evaluation centres. According to officials at these varsities the teachers participating in these valuation camps would be given training in the new, grades, mode of evaluating answer scripts.

These examinations would also see a change in the way the grades secured by a candidate are made known to the university. Till now, the marks awarded by a teacher at a camp used to be entered into a sheet which was then transported to the section concerned in the University.

Here, the tabulation sheet would be prepared after decoding the false number given to that candidate. Then the results would be declared. The decoding of false numbers and the preparation of the tabulation sheet have widely been acknowledged to be the most time-consuming processes in a university’s examination wing.

Now, all three varsities have put in place a computer-driven system for this work. The grades secured by a candidate would be fed into a computer at the camp itself and transferred online to the university where it would be ‘tabulated’. In addition to speeding up the process of publication of results, the new system also reduces the chances of human error by many a factor. In all three universities, the schedule of the evaluation camps too was prepared after detailed discussions with principals of the affiliated colleges.

The Pro-Vice Chancellor of the MG University Rajan Varghese, in a note mailed to The Hindu-EducationPlus, said the varsity would publish the results of the first semester examinations by the end of December 2009.

The Calicut university plans to publish its results within one week of the culmination of the valuation camps. In his note, the controller of examinations of the university V. Rajagopalan pointed out that last year the varsity had published the results of its B.Tech examinations in record time- 40 days from the completion of the examinations.

At the Sree Sankara University of Sanskrit, Kalady, courses are already being held in a semester mode. After revising the curriculum for the new undergraduate courses the varsity too is on the path of introducing examination reforms. The vice chancellor J. Prasad told The Hindu-EducationPlus that his university too would soon introduce barcoded answer sheets and deliver hall tickets online to colleges. “The CDIT is putting finishing touches to all this. Though we can manage without such changes, we want to remain in sync with what is happening in other universities,” he explained.

In addition to testing the administrative acumen of the varsities, the conduct of these examinations would also gauge the ability of teachers in these universities to set question papers in tune with the educational philosophy of the new curriculum and their ability to switch their thinking seamlessly from marks to grades.

During training sessions organised by the universities to orient teachers in the intricacies of the credit and semester system it was the sessions on question paper setting and grade-based evaluation that cause the maximum headache to the resource persons.

These examinations would also be keenly watched by a varsity which would only introduce the credit and semester system for undergraduate courses in the next academic year-the University of Kerala. Though the mother university in the State has set up its own committee—headed by Pro-Vice Chancellor J. Prabhash—to oversee the implementation of the new system, it would have many lessons to learn.

If the three universities are able to ensure the smooth conduct of these examinations, it would be a shot in the arm for the Kerala State Higher Education Council, which initiated the whole process of reforms in the undergraduate sector. The council too has been taking flak from the Opposition parties—it has also taken some friendly fire—for allegedly hurrying through with these reforms.

The member secretary of the council Thomas Joseph pointed out that the smooth conduct of the examinations and the timely publication of results would instill a lot of confidence in the minds of students and teachers about the reforms. The universities have worked hard to put the reforms into practice. “If there are shortcomings here and there it would be a good opportunity to learn lessons for the future,” he added.

These examinations are also being held at a time when the council has decided to constitute an expert committee to study the processes related to the conduct of examinations in universities in the State and another committee to study the operation of the credit and semester system for postgraduate courses.