Bengaluru

For visually challenged students, hunting for scribes is adding to examination stress

Blind students appear for the SSLC exams with the help of scribes at St. Alyosius School in Bengaluru.

Blind students appear for the SSLC exams with the help of scribes at St. Alyosius School in Bengaluru.   | Photo Credit: K_Gopinathan

80 such students in Mysuru will be appearing for their degree examinations in April

Like his classmates, Divakar, a student of Mahajana First Grade College in Mysuru, is preparing for the crucial final semester examinations scheduled to begin in April. But, as a visually challenged student, he is finding it tough to arrange for a scribe who will have to put on paper whatever he has studied.

Scribes are not easy to come by, and the hunt for one is not only sapping his energy, but also adding to the examination stress. “We literally move heaven and earth to locate a scribe. English-medium students cannot afford to engage a scribe who writes in Kannada. We don’t find suitable candidates even if we are ready to pay for their transportation costs,” said Divakar.

A total of 80 students from different colleges in Mysuru will be appearing for their degree examinations starting from April 10 this year. Unlike other students, visually challenged ones begin their preparations in advance. They collect notes of different subjects dictated in class and arrange a volunteer who will read them out aloud over a period of several hours and record them. They prepare for the examination by listening to the recordings.

Then there's the hunt for the elusive scribe. “Scribes are just not available,” said Dr. Bhargavi Hemmige, Assistant Professor at Mahajana’s First Grade College. “Any individual, including a housewife, professional or student, who has has finished their SSLC can come forward to offer their services as a scribe,” she said.

Even if students manage to find a suitable scribe, s/he may not be available to write all their examinations.

Darshan, another visually challenged student, had to go through a depressing experience when he had to change a scribe for an examination in the second semester. The scribe, who wrote Darshan’s first examination in one subject, could not attend the examination of the second subject. When a different scribe was engaged with great difficulty, the authorities simply refused to permit the scribe to write the paper, said Darshan, who was unable to clear one subject because of the lack of awareness on the part of the authorities.

The reason cited by the authorities was that the scribe was different from the one who wrote the previous examination, and was better qualified with a degree in commerce. By the time Darshan could convince the authorities that there were no such restrictions as per the revised guidelines issued by government of India’s Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment Department of Disability Affairs in 2013, it was too late.

The guidelines for conducting written examinations for persons with disabilities state that “there should also be flexibility in accommodating any change in scribe/reader/lab assistant in case of an emergency”. There is no need for the same scribe to write all the examinations of a visually challenged student.

But most universities and colleges across the State, which have not updated themselves with the 2013 guidelines, continue to follow the 2004 guidelines with regard to written examinations for the differently-abled, said Dr. Hemmige.

Bangalore University asks its students to choose scribes from their circle of family or friends to avoid undue stress, said C. Shivaraju, Registrar of Evaluation of the varsity. “Normally, when people pick scribes who are not known to them, there is no accountability. We have been asking all our students who take scribes to be proactive and have at least two people lined up to help them write the examination,” he said.

School students, however, are relieved of the stress of finding scribes. Visually challenged students from Class I to IX write their examinations in Braille while the school authorities arrange scribes for students appearing for SSLC examinations.

A scribe bank in the pipeline

Efforts are under way to create a scribe bank comprising suitable candidates to help visually impaired students write their examinations. Students, who had formed the organisation – the Blind Students Association -- are being assisted by Dr. Bhargavi Hemmige, who has come up with the idea of creating a scribe bank by enlisting volunteers.

“If need be, a website can also be created to compile the data and rate scribes. But, for all this, we need to join hands with voluntary organisations and philanthropists,” said Dr. Hemmige, who is also a member of the syndicate of Mangalore University.

Though an app – scribe finder – has already been created, there is little response from suitable candidates and blind students çontinue to struggle to find scribes, she lamented.

She has also urged the university authorities to create a separate cell for assisting students with disabilities.

Organisations interested in associating with the Blind Students Association can contact Dr. Hemmige on bhargavibelur@gmail.com.

Besides this, many like-minded individuals are using different social networking and messaging platforms to rope in volunteers.

Surendran Krishnan, a CSR consultant who founded a group called Pen Pals, said that over the past four years, they have helped 3,000 students with their exams. While a majority of the candidates they have helped are visually challenged students, they also provide writing assistance to students who have cerebral palsy or have met with an accident.

‘Patience and confidence are virtues a scribe needs to have’

Bengaluru-based Pushpa N.M. has a packed schedule this month. Blame it on the examination season. She’s not a student, but a scribe, who, in a span of nearly 10 years, has helped 716 candidates. From university examinations to recruitment examination, she has written them all. She travels across the State to assist students.

Earlier this week, she won the Ministry of Women and Child Development’s Nari Shakti Puraskar, given by the President of India and got the chance to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ms. Pushpa has been a scribe for about 10 years. While she largely caters to visually impaired students, she also writes examination for those suffering from cerebral palsy, Down’s Syndrome and accident victims. She describes her foray into this field as a happy accident when a friend asked her to volunteer as a scribe for a student. “I initially found it very difficult, but it was a satisfying experience.”

As a young woman, Ms. Pushpa was unable to pursue higher education due to financial constraints. “I know the importance of education. When candidates I have helped call me to tell me that they have cleared their papers, I get immense joy. Today, many of the students I have written examinations for, are well placed in academics or in their careers,” she said.

Patience and confidence she believes are two virtues that a scribe needs to have. While it is relatively easy listening to visually impaired students and take down their answers, the challenge is in helping people with cerebral palsy who also have difficulties in speech. “I feel blessed that I am able to understand their wavelength and communicate what they say,” she said.

(With inputs from Tanu Kulkarni in Bengaluru)

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 12:43:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/for-visually-challenged-students-hunting-for-scribes-is-adding-to-examination-stress/article26487911.ece

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