Every child in India wishes at some point that their schools get shut for the foreseeable future and they get to languish at home. Another wish that closely follows is that exams get delayed, or better yet, cancelled.
With the coronavirus wreaking havoc across the world, these two express wishes of students have, in fact, come true. But not in the best of circumstances. Schools and colleges were among the first institutions to be shut when the pandemic was announced, even in India. However, these holidays are not as blissful as students thought they would be.
And Indian educational institutions were just not ready for the lockdown.
With school and colleges shut, there was a mad dash to compensate for the lost time by introducing haphazard models of online learning. In most Indian educational institutions, it is actually a miracle to find a working computer and WiFi connection with proper bandwidth. In the midst of such technological deficiency, any sort of online module is bound to fail.
But the online classes began, and are still continuing. However, a similar poorly glued together plan cannot be undertaken for exams. Especially when you can’t trust your WiFi and computer security. While classes are about imparting knowledge, exams, especially in the context of Indian education, are about evaluation and competition. If students have not been taught properly, the question of a formal evaluation should not even arise.
Students from all walks of life
Delhi University (DU) shut in mid-March and now the authorities are mulling over conducting end-semester exams online. These decisions are being taken without any input from the students themselves, the primary stakeholders in this situation.
Students in a public university like DU come from all walks of life. Most of them have gone back to their homes and villages — and thus, not everyone has access to a fast WiFi connection, personal computers, laptops or even a quiet space in their house, which are imperative to conduct online exams.
A student pursuing an MA in History from DU said, “We don’t have access to basic stationary like pen and paper only, online exams are a far cry.” And he is one of the many students who face these challenges. When it is just online classes, you can still attend those and share notes with the ones who were unable to access them. But how does one proxy in exams, and more importantly, why should one?
In Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as well, authorities have postponed the exams but are rather confident that things will be well enough by late June and July to conduct exams. The JNU administration has also allowed different centres to choose their own mode of exams and many, especially Science departments, are choosing to go with offline exams. However, the past few months have made one thing clear — novel coronavirus is pretty consistent in its unpredictability.
No one actually knows the path the coronavirus will take in India and planning out a schedule for the rest of the year is slightly demented. Especially when most of your students reside outside Delhi and have to plan their travel back to the city.
Cancel exams in Covid times
Most universities are still hell-bent on conducting exams even though there is no way to do so. For India, that seems to be the only marker of education.
This is not unsurprising though, as Indian educational administrations are not known to be kind to their students. Everything from complicated procedures for the simple administrative work, uncooperative and glitchy website servers, unpaid academic resources and inaccessible officials — it’s like the very institutional framework is erected to make life as difficult as possible for students.
You have to prove that you learned something of importance in the last four months that you sat in class. Of course, most students don’t actually sit in class and can easily pass these exams by cramming any guidebook. So, essentially, the very purpose of these exams is never fulfilled. Perhaps, all of this is still justifiable under normal circumstances.
But the current situation is far from normal. This is the one time these universities can afford to swivel away from the norm and take drastic measures. Measures like cancelling exams. It is not even that strange a recommendation. A friend studying in Hyderabad Central University shared that a committee of professors has suggested that exams should be cancelled and students should be awarded an average score based on their past performance. The committee also recommended that students should be given an option to to sit for exams if they wish to improve their score.
If one university can do it, surely, it is not unprecedented to call for all universities to follow suit. They need to understand that it is absolutely unfair to ask students to sit for exams in the middle of a pandemic. Not only does the question of access arise but also about their psychological circumstances. How is one supposed to concentrate on studying for exams when all they hear are the number of lives this coronavirus has claimed. Moreover, some of these students or their family members could be infected by the virus, which just makes the situation more stressful for such people.
Cancel exams in 2020, focus on learning.
Views are personal.