‘A mockery of DU examinations’

Teachers, students oppose university’s decision to hold at-home open book exams

Delhi University’s recent decision to hold open book examinations at home for the final semester — in view of the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic — has invited widespread opposition from students and teachers as well as individual departments.

Stakeholders have argued that the move, pushed through without consultations, would at best be a mockery of examinations and at worst exclusionary, and a blow to students who were already disadvantaged.

Several stakeholders also raised questions about the university’s ability to conduct such a large-scale online exercise given the history of the university server overloading during admissions, result days and most recently during the filling up of online examination forms.

“The forms were released nearly a month ago, but I was able to fill one only recently after many attempts,” said a student.

Speaking to The Hindu, students from across the country, from Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Rajasthan, Assam, to here in the Capital, plagued with poor Internet connections, technological difficulties and a lack of study material as well as those who are visually impaired among a host of other issues said they were going to face severe difficulties attempting these exams.

Difficult access

Sitting at home in Jammu, Manchi Jandial, a final-year BSc Botany student at Hansraj College will have to give theory as well as practical exams online starting next week. Given the communication blockade there, Ms. Jandial only has access to 2G services, which means Internet speed is very slow. “Downloading just one file takes about half an hour,” she said.

She said that two hours would not be enough to download the question paper, search for answers, write and upload them again. “It would be very unfair. And for people in Kashmir, Internet goes on and off any moment,” she said.

Recently, over 100 students from the Union Territory wrote a joint letter to the J&K Lieutenant Governor as well as the Chief Secretary, urging them to intervene in the matter. Highlighting that they were not even able to attend online classes given the Net speed, the letter reads, “We have also written to the Dean of Examination and V-C of university, but they didn’t listen to us.”

Residing in the Edatharingi village in Kerala, final-year MA sociology student at Delhi School of Economics, Rebecca Vargheese has to step out on the road with her laptop just to send an email. With residents in her village having long opposed the setting up of telecom towers, the only service provider she has access to is BSNL which is terribly weak, she said. “I’ve got all the set-up, I bought a modem and everything, but the connection just doesn’t work and customer care also doesn’t respond,” she said. Instead she has to depend on a feeble phone connection that is patchily available.

“If I am forced to take these exams, I would have to travel to another district, about 40 km, to a friend’s place to take them,” she said. Meanwhile, she hasn’t been able to attend online classes and didn’t bring along any books with her, as she had come home for her sister’s wedding during the mid-semester break.

Naresh Kumar, in his final year at Shivaji College, does not have his textbooks either. He only brought a few novels and magazines to during the break back home. A resident of Morthla near Mount Abu in Rajasthan, Mr. Kumar said that he does not have regular mobile Internet at his village. “Typically, we would go to the city to study at a cyber cafe. Even that’s not an option this time, given the lockdown,” he said.

Not just in remote parts of the country, students here in Delhi are facing connectivity and technology issues. For Sachin Mahawar, final-year BSc Botany student at Ramjas College, who stayed back at his rented room in Delhi to prepare for MSc entrance exams, regular Internet inside the room is unavailable. Which means that every time he has to download or upload any document, he has to step out of his room with his phone and laptop.

Mr. Mahawar is also among those who has to attempt an “online practical exam”. “We’ve been told it will take place over a Zoom class [live telecast], where we will be shown a specimen and we have to identify it in about 30 minutes,” he said. Following this, students will be required to draw diagrams and write identifying details of the same. While students without regular Internet connection would be at a disadvantage, Mr. Mahawar also informed that most students had left their practical record books with teachers and didn’t have material to study from. “Everyone is confused and tensed about what will happen,” he said.

In Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao, Devashish Verma, a third-year BA History student at Ramjas College, had returned home without his laptop and the email id meant for college work which was logged on to that computer. This means that if any assignments have been issued by his professors, he has to ask his friends to forward PDFs on his phone.

Most of the assignments being carried out currently were simply a form of “copy pasting” from articles he said. “But as a graduation student, I’m not studying just to get by am I?” he said, adding that the way classes were being undertaken, studies were taking place merely as a formality.

Questioning the logic behind “open book tests”, he highlighted there would be a need for resources, especially access Internet to answer well and provide bibliographies to answers. “How can they do this? It is a severe injustice taking place,” he said.

Apart from this, the biggest pressure right now were entrance exams, said Deveshresh, distraught that he wasn’t able to apply to the Hyderabad Central University as there were connectivity issues and the last day of applications passed by.

Challenge for the special

Online examinations also pose a special challenge to visually impaired students. Keshav Das, a visually impaired student from Mathura in his final year at Shaheed Bhagat Singh College was worried about how he would manage a scribe to help him take the exam.

“I have no facility and I don’t know how I will find a scribe here,” he said. Mr. Das stressed that even if professors send study materials to prepare for the exams, it would be difficult to access them unless they were audio books.

Taking note of this issue, the university has asked all departments to contact physically challenged students, especially those who are visually impaired, to ask them about their Internet accessibility. In a separate letter to HoDs, the Dean of Examinations also wrote that the exams would require minimum Internet connectivity and access to “any latest smartphone” and that mechanisms to address technological constraints would be developed. However, this has not been elaborated on so far. Messages, calls and questionnaires sent to the Dean of Examinations and the University Registrar went unanswered.

Trishita Shandilyia, a final-year MA sociology student at DSE, residing in Guwahati, said that while Internet connectivity was not an issue for her. However, given the “flood season” was starting there, electricity cuts were frequent and posed a major issue.

Ms. Shandilyia like many others The Hindu spoke with, was hoping to use the last semester to improve her CGPA by taking “lighter subjects”. This meant that for people like her, alternatives modes proposed such as averaging the CGPAs of the previous semesters were not the most appealing option.

Snyukta Kalita, a third-year BSc Life Sciences student, residing in Gurugram, said that the exams were a viable option for her as she had good Internet connectivity and would be able to take the “practical examinations” based on methodology and observations from experiments she had already practised while at college Among a primary drivers for this was that she wanted to improve her CGPA and apply for masters programmes.

Lack of consultations

Scores of surveys undertaken by student organisations like All India Students’ Association (AISA), Students’ Federation of India (SFI), students of Lady Shri Ram College, internal surveys by the Department of History, by teachers at Miranda House College, have all returned an overwhelmingly negative response to the conduct of these examinations. Students have highlighted issues of poor Internet access, technological concerns, mental anxiety and household chores.

Apart from students and teachers groups of all political hues, individual departments such as the history department, about 170 teachers of the economics department, and of the statistics department have objected to the undertaking of the examination. These as well as The sociology department and Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) have proposed alternative modes of evaluation to help award degrees to students. Some of these involve not considering the final-semester marks in the overall marks, or taking an average of previous semesters marks along with a component assigned to internal assessments among other solutions.

While the number of petitions, statements and letters from different quarters and social media campaigns pile up, many groups have pointed to the lack of time given for consultations to begin with. On May 6, the university constituted a 15-member ‘Working Group’ to look into these matters and review the preparedness to conduct examinations in the present academic session.

Within a week of forming this committee, the university issued a notification announcing that it would be conducting online exams for students in the final semester across institutions in the university. Only two days were given for inviting suggestions on these questions on May 11, after which the notification were issued on May 14.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 12:32:59 PM |

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