From a distance, Delhi University seems like the hallowed college life that only a minimum of 95 per cent in your Class 12 board exams can get you access to. But up close, the university space is just a cesspool of incompetence, premised on the need to make life for students absolutely miserable.
Since the lockdown was imposed in March, the university has approached online examinations with a single-minded obsession. Disregarding all pleas, warnings and prayers of students against these exams, the cause for merit reigned supreme for the university.
Delhi University’s ‘Open Book Examinations’ (OBE) debacle continues. After months of will-they-won’t-they, the university announced that it would finally begin the much-criticised exams from 10 July. However, after the Home Ministry and the Delhi High Court intervened, the exams have been postponed till 15 August. Leaving final year undergraduate and postgraduate students in a lurch, yet again.
For the record, the notification for this change came two days before the exams were actually scheduled to begin.
The Covid-19 pandemic proved that life as we knew it could not continue like before, but it seems like Delhi University (DU) did not get the memo.
This examination obsession shows all that is wrong with Delhi University — apathy toward students, prioritising outcome over process, and an inflexible attitude that ignores the ground reality.
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‘It’s straight up apathy’
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown on 24 March, DU was in the middle of its mid-semester break. With half the semester slated to be conducted online, things began to look dicey.
An average English Masters class in DU consists of over a 100 students. Now imagine conducting online classes with these students, when even Zoom’s participant limit is just 100. Many professors gave up early on, but those who endeavoured to try soon realised how futile the exercise was.
However, even failed online classes were not enough to break DU’s resolve. Since March, the university has switched dates, postponed exams or changed the rules at least four times.
According to Megha, an MA student, this constant back-and-forth regarding exams has revealed how incompetent the university is when it comes to to dealing with a crisis.
“This situation just makes you want to completely give up. It is almost like they are playing with the students’ lives, mental health and their anxieties. It is just straight up apathy” she says.
When mock tests become a mockery
Much has been written about Indias’s unequal access to internet, especially during this pandemic. A large part of this can be attributed to the communication blackouts imposed by the government. But the way the Delhi University and the University Grants Commission (UGC) has refused to consider this as a hindrance is appalling.
A glance at the websites of these institutions can give you a clue about how much they actually know about technology — DU’s official website is a quagmire to navigate through. No one really knows where the important links are, and the website takes hours to load on result day.
This is the same system that was supposed to handle the traffic of lakhs of students logging into its server for online exams from 10 July.
The joke was on them when they conducted mock tests of these proposed OBEs, earlier this week. There was an embarrassing array of problems that popped up — from difficulties during registration to wrong question papers. DU’s mammoth exercise proved to be a mammoth failure, and this was only the trial run. Till about a week ago, there was no provision of writers for visually-impaired students.
A student from Kashmir, who wished to remain anonymous, comments that this is all just a “bad imitation of the Western model”.
“It seems that the university is only interested in putting up a demeanour of being ‘capable’. Ignoring the situation of the students, [it] is coming across as a rigid institution that sees nothing but marks and exams as the eligibility criteria of an acceptable student,” she says.
“Working on 2G internet, which takes hours and sometimes days to download a book, with the pandemic coming as close as your neighbour’s house, this exam is just designed to produce crippling anxiety in students who are expected to shut off from the world and its tragedies and focus on getting grades,” she adds.
Incompetent bureaucrats and unhelpful departments
What has been evident through this entire debacle is the blatant manipulation DU has indulged in. Not only has the administration clearly lied to its students about the OBE exams, in terms of the regulations, dates and expectations, it has also been accused of lying to the court.
The university was all set to conduct the exams on 1 July but then suddenly postponed them to 10 July without informing the Delhi High court, which then considered contempt proceedings against DU for withholding information about deferment. The exams were allegedly postponed because the vice-registrar’s mother contracted Covid-19 —another illustration of how arbitrarily this university functions.
“We have a university administration that has managed to make things substantially worse for students in terms of infrastructure, accessibility, mental health and preparedness,” says Anshul Mukarji, another postgraduate student.
“There is a callousness coming from the university, which is completely unaffected by the plight of students. Even though there were reports of some students even committing suicide,” he adds.
Students are the bottom-tier stakeholders in their own education.
According to another student, “What we have is a bunch of bureaucratic fatcats who are just sitting around with no accountability to the students.”
Many blame their departments and the UGC for failing to provide the students some respite. This week, UGC released guidelines asking universities to conduct exams for students in their final year. It is now pushing states that had rescinded exams to compulsorily conduct them.
“It’s a ‘you must persevere, you must suffer’ sort of a situation for all students,” says Srishti, a student of IP University, which also held exams for some departments after the UGC’s directions.
Unfortunately, the students have little option but to persevere because the raging pandemic is not going anywhere anytime soon. And by the looks of it, neither is DU’s incompetence or callous attitude.
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