While institutes have begun conducting examinations online amidst the Coronavirus-led lockdown, not all students have access to high-end internet connection or personal devices like computers, laptops or even smartphones.
A Karnataka-based university sent a message to its final year students stating that the end-term examinations will be held online from mid-June onwards amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students were sent an e-booklet explaining how the process would function. However, one crucial piece of information was missing: What about students without laptops or internet access?
While multiple calls were made by the 150-odd students who had gone back to their native places after the coronavirus lockdown, the institute has not yet taken a decision on what happens to these candidates.
"Some students were told to borrow from neighbours. Everyone is afraid of getting infected. Why will anyone lend a laptop for three hours?" asked a candidate of the institute quoted above who has gone back to his home town Purulia in West Bengal.
Data from the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2018-19 showed that at the undergraduate level itself about 6.4 million students graduated from various programmes in the previous academic year in India.
Considering both the undergraduate and postgraduate streams, almost 8 million students write the final examinations every year. Due to this, completely shifting the process online is not feasible.
Since the human resource development (HRD) ministry has mandated that final-year examinations will be held despite COVID-19, the online proctoring model of examinations has been adopted by some institutes.
This means that a student can sit anywhere in the world and write an examination with constant monitoring by artificial intelligence (AI) tools. However, institutes seem to have ignored the fact that students in remote parts of the country may not be able to get seamless connectivity. Many wouldn’t also be able to afford a web-cam or computer.
Five large universities in India, one each in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, and three in Tamil Nadu are now planning to rollback a previous decision of online examinations after 30-35 percent of the final-year candidates complained about not having the necessary resources.
“If students don’t have laptops, how will they write the final examination? We understand the HRD Ministry’s stance where they don’t want students to waste one year. But we cannot expect students to buy an expensive electronic item like tablet or laptop just for writing an exam and are now exploring test centres closer to their homes,” said the vice chancellor of a Tamil Nadu-based university.
This may be possible by one university. But India has 993 universities and 39,931 colleges. It will be financially and logistically impossible for all these educational institutes to set up testing infrastructure all across the country.
Considering that India is getting closer to lifting of the lockdown, it is imperative that institutes either postpone the tests or use previous term grades to arrive at an aggregate figure. Phone-based viva examinations could also be an option. But colleges and universities must ensure that no student misses out on the final qualifying examination.
Based on the availability of resources among some students, institutes cannot presume that all candidates will be able to give tests remotely. Discriminating against one section of students and going ahead with online tests would be unfair.Follow our full COVID-19 coverage here