Clearly, our exam system needs an overhaul, but which is the best and cost-effective alternative?

Instances of II Pre University (PU) question papers being leaked this year, forcing rescheduling of the examination, opened a can of worms with regard to the system in place. With Karnataka having been witness to several instances of leaked PU papers, apart from numerous cases of university exam papers being leaked, Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda was moved to comment that the system needs an overhaul.

Currently, in the current system of reaching the question papers to their final destination, there are a large number of people involved — right from those in the printing press, those in logistics of the delivery, officials in treasury offices and to colleges where the papers are stored. Subsequently, the risk of leakage compounds with every step of the process.

In most of these stages, the delivery process has remained the same as it did a few decades ago, with little change in terms of security. With the investigations by security agencies into the leakage of II PU papers last month revealing the collusion of lecturers and treasury officials, it becomes apparent that the current system is in a shambles.

While not many view technology as the ultimate solution, it is increasingly emerging as an alternative. Even a senior official in the Department of Pre-University Education (DPUE) admitted: “Times and technology have changed, but not the examination procedure of the Board.”

Online delivery

While the Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU), Belgaum, has ambitious plans to introduce online delivery of papers to the colleges from this academic year, the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences (RGUHS) in Bangalore has had it for the last three years.

N.S. Ashok Kumar, Registrar (Evaluation,) RGUHS, said the process had “completely removed the nuisance of leakage”. “We start sending the papers online, all controlled through codes given to colleges, around 30 minutes before the examination. Using high speed printers installed at the colleges, the papers are distributed to the students,” he explained.

For corrections, and for overall monitoring, each college has a nodal officer from the university who acts as a liaison officer. However, setting up of such a system encompassing 600 colleges under the university brought with it teething problems initially — mainly with the setting up of servers, installation of software, and usage of network connectivity in the colleges, Dr. Kumar said.

Is it a solution?

While RGUHS encompasses 600 colleges, and VTU 203, can an online system be implemented at a PU-level where the staggering statistics are a hurdle?

“Nearly six lakh students wrote the II PU exams this year. There were around 1,000 exam centres and nearly 32 lakh answer scripts. With those kind of numbers, implementing the online option would not be easy. And with these kind of numbers, the costs would also be a concern,” a DPUE official said. However, the official added, though it was too early to spell out what changes were in the pipeline as the current exam process is underway, reforms were inevitable.

This opinion is backed by a BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.) official who provided networking solutions to the projects under National Mission for Education through Information Communication Technology (NMEICT). “The solution is feasible for technical universities as the colleges are well equipped and are close to the existing broadband networks.

However, for PU colleges, many of which are situated in remote areas, it will not be possible to connect all of them in the near future. Wireless connection like 3G is possible, but cost will be a major factor,” he said.

The cost factor also seems to have put off officials in Bangalore University. With a deficit of around Rs. 5 crore this year alone, Vice-Chancellor N. Prabhu Dev said BU could not afford to go online with question paper delivery. “We have 624 colleges, and most are in rural areas. How can anyone expect us to implement the system?”

A low cost method?

Similarly, with no proposals to introduce an online delivery of question papers, S.C. Sharma, Vice-Chancellor of Tumkur University, instead suggested simpler methods such as making closely-guarded multiple sets of papers, to ensure no leakage of papers. “It would be impossible for anyone but the Board of Examinations to know which set goes to which college,” he said.

Among other steps to boost security, Mr. Sharma said the papers were under the strict vigil of Home Guard, clustering colleges in one common guarded centre and not disclosing the location of the outsourced printing press.

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