Come Summer Indian newspapers are agog with colourful advertisements from hundreds of educational institutions and universities, vying with each other boasting of their facilities. Phrases like ‘State-of-the-art facilities, best faculty with modern infrastructure, well stocked library, wi-fi network, are flashed in nearly all the ads.

In this scenario, the latest claim is about them being the first in introducing “online examinations”. Of late, quite a few universities are claiming this honour. But, are such online examinations truly online in the right sense of the word?

It is quite inconceivable that certain universities which are slated to be the repositories of wisdom, intellect, vision, the wherewithal and the technical acumen end up in such imbroglio. Popular examinations conducted world–wide like TOEFL, GATE, IELTS, USMLE, etc., are, since long, being conducted very successfully online.

Microsoft evaluates the proficiency of the candidates world-wide only through an online examination. But all such examinations require data transfer instantly without any human intervention from the word ‘go’.

The examinee needs to have a reliable access to a computer and proficiency in its operation. On the appointed time and date, the examinee gets access to the objective type of question paper wherein he needs to select any one of the answers.

His response instantly reaches the system at the examiner end. The system immediately values the answers and the net result is flashed to the examinee in real time. This in general is referred to as online examination.

In other words, data transfer between the examiner and examinee is in real time and with total confidentiality from the start of the examination to the announcement of the result.

The universities and institutions have to ensure availability of the necessary hardware, software and systems are in place.

On the other hand, any type of intervention, human or otherwise, negates the online concept of examination. In such cases, those types of examinations can, at best, be termed as IT-enabled examinations and not online examination in the strict sense of the term. In case of detailed answers with circuit diagrams, drawings, graphs, etc., the possibility of online examinations has to be seen. Also, the student is not normally proficient to type all the descriptive answers by himself in a PC.

He cannot be expected to have such proficiency in typing as a professional typist. What can be written by him in an answer sheet in an hour needs at least three times more time to be typed on a keyboard. Worst is when he has to draw figures and drawings of all types. Due to such practical difficulties, written answer in hard copies is the only solution.

To bring in the colour of online examinations, some universities resort to scanning of the hard copies and transferring them to the examiner. Thus, the examiner is compelled to read the answers in a monitor and evaluate. It is an accepted fact that to examine an answer sheet in a monitor is most strenuous.

The examiner cannot record his comments on the answer sheets. Is this the online examination which our universities are aspiring to achieve?

The most essential aspect is the total confidentiality and secrecy. The whole gamut of software, hardware, the allied networking and the peripherals has to ensure zero hacking at every stage.

The problems discussed relate only to IT-enabled services. There are much larger avenues of unfair means and foul methods which are specific to IT-enabled exam systems. It is very essential for a university to iron out all such possible details and subsequently launch the online examination system.

There seems to be a race for one-upmanship to claim success in these efforts. But, such initiatives will only result in a total fiasco putting the students and the university in long drawn difficulties and legal battles. Finally it will lead to blame game within the organisation.

It is highly advisable for higher education institutions to set up an expert committee.

Air Vice-Marshal (Retd.) N. Natarajan

Former Vice-Chancellor,

HN Bahuguna Garhwal University,

Srinagar, Uttarakhund.