The student called out “a2,” and the scribe wrote “A square.”
“Some of them get everything wrong,” says P. Suresh, recalling his experience while writing the math paper during the class X11 Board exam last year. The student with visual impairment, who is currently pursuing his first-year bachelor's degree in a college in the city, says for many students like him, taking the class XII Board examination is a difficult task.
For them, the outcome of an entire year's effort literally rests on the scribe's hands.
“The scribes allotted by the government are usually teachers who handle primary or middle school sections. They do not necessarily understand what we say, particularly in subjects such as accountancy or mathematics,” he says.
This year, nearly 50 students with visual impairment are appearing for the Higher Secondary class XII examination in Chennai, according to sources in the Department.
The School Education Department follows the practice of allotting secondary grade teachers as scribes. However, it is ensured that the scribe is not a teacher of the same subject being tested in the examination to prevent malpractice.
Activists and students scribes should have some exposure to the subject. C. Govindakrishnan, founder of Nethrodaya, an organisation working with people who are visually challenged, says an art teacher or a drawing master cannot be a good scribe for a student taking the accountancy paper.
While students in districts such as Chennai tend to get scribes of a good quality, students in other districts are not as lucky, say experts. “They do not understand when the student says ‘write this number in the assets or the liabilities column.' Then, the student has no choice but to elaborately explain each and every step in an answer,” Mr. Govindakrishnan says. If the quality of invigilation is good and vigil is raised, no student can get away with cheating, he adds.
P. Bhoopathy, another college student, remembers how his scribe wrote “two by four” when he called out “2/4” during his Board examination. “When we quote a poem or want a diagram drawn, it becomes very tedious. If we have to call out the spelling of each and every word or explain how the diagram should look, there is no way we can finish our paper on time, even if additional time is provided,” says P. Vijay, currently in his second year of college.
A lot of students who thought they had called out answers well ended up scoring lower than they expected, possibly because of spelling errors.
S. Anbu, who is taking his class XII examinations this year as a private candidate, says he had no issues with the scribe provided for the Language (I) paper on Wednesday. “I hope I get someone good for the Commerce and Accountancy papers. Those are the subjects I am worried about,” he says.
While the quality of scribes is an issue those such as Mr.Govindakrishnan are trying to address, the availability of scribes is a larger problem that special educators are grappling with.
For the Board examinations, the School Education Department organises scribes who are usually teachers.
“But for examinations that children in other classes take, it is always a challenge finding good and willing scribes,” says a teacher, who networks with scribes in the city. The fee given to scribes should also be raised periodically, note experts.
Scribes ought to be more sensitive, says Maheswari Narsimhan, coordinator of iscribe.co.in, an online forum that seeks to put students with visual impairment and institutions for them in touch with those who are willing to be scribes for various examinations.
“We have nearly 2,000 persons registered with us, but only about 100 are consistent and willing to come any time we call them. We definitely need a network of committed and sensitive scribes.”