India is a country of 1.35 billion people. Students make a large chunk of the population. More than one lakh students attend college annually in Delhi University, leaving behind their homes, in hopes of building a secure future for themselves. But some of the recent decisions by the University have raised doubts among the students if the Varsity cares about them.
The Delhi University has recently issued a notification regarding the examinations for the final semester/ term/ year for the session 2019-2020 in the view of COVID-19. The notification, says all concerned examinations for final semester/ year/ term students for all undergraduate and postgraduate courses including the examinations for SOL and non- colligate women education board (NCWEB) shall commence from the 1st of July 2020. Further highlighting that if the situation around COVID-19 does not improve, the university will adopt an alternate mode of examination i.e., Open Book Examination (OBE) for the final year students of all UG, PG and other academic programs. the OBE shall be conducted along with arrears (ER) of the previous semester/term/ year. This alternate method would be taken to ensure all the social distancing norms, safety, and health of the students. The notification stated that a detailed guideline of the Open book examination (OBE) along with the date sheet of UG shall be notified by the end of this month.
Students and teachers both believe that the recent announcements where ill-conceived and are not in favour of the OBE. These unprecedented times have excluded numerous students from remote areas as well as from small towns and cities. With internet connectivity being abysmal very few have access to regular online classes.
We speak to a few people to know what are the issues they are facing.
Student’s experiences with the University
Sakshi Sitesh, a former student of IP College, and a resident of Patna, shares her experiences with the University servers and the inequality existing amongst the students. “It's unfair that DU assumes that everyone has the facility of a laptop to themselves with a functional internet connection. Parts of the country have been denied the 4G connection, and we shouldn't forget that there are students from DU currently living there. DU servers have been a nightmare while downloading admit cards and mark sheets all through the six semesters of under-graduation.”
Inadequate IT infrastructure
She adds, “Adding to the inadequate IT infrastructure of the University itself, to assume that one can do their research on their phone is a gross underestimation of how difficult it is to read academic papers and books on the screen of one's phone. This is assuming that there's a constant and stable internet connection, which also is an overestimation when almost everything has been moved online, thereby burdening the internet spectrum.”
“It would be callous for the University to assume that everyone has a stable internet connection, resources to study and also the mental space to give exams,” says Aanya Wig, studying in Lady Shri Ram College. She says that there are so many alternatives like internal assessments or an accumulative GPA of previous semesters.
Transition to Online Teaching
A professor of Delhi University says that the decision on the part of the University to hold Open Book Exams is an exclusionary one. "This is fundamentally discriminatory in nature and will affect students who come from underprivileged and marginal backgrounds adversely. It is clear to anyone who has observed or facilitated the transition to online teaching that a major percentage of students is unable to access classes and material on time. Thus, this decision on the part of the university is myopic, ill-thought-out, and undemocratic to say the least."
Professors are not trained to set such exams.
The professor also adds that teachers are not trained to set such exams. Since, instructions have come at such short notice, the quality of paper setting will surely suffer. And further suggests that one solution could be recalibrating the academic calendar and the semester. Marks can be allotted on the basis of Internal Assessment with requisite benefit to the students. "I can't say there will be 'lenient marking' but it seems like marking will be in accordance with the new pattern. Although, there is no straightforward directive like that as far as I know".
Mental Health Crisis
What about people using Braille
Ameesha Bala, a student from East Delhi, says that one should not forget the visually impaired students who study with us. "During internal assessments, they either use braille or a scribe is provided to them. There is no way these students can refer to the e-resources the University expects them to use."
"A lot of students are unfortunately in homes that do not offer a conducive environment to study. And there are a lot of students who live in areas that have been declared as red zones", she adds.
Power cuts around the country
Power cuts are nothing new. Even living in Delhi doesn't stop you from experiencing these frequently. Imagine living in a small town in India where this happens daily for hours.
Problem for out-station students
Moreover, a lot of outstation students have gone back home suddenly, vacated quickly with only a number of belongings, do not have their study material and limited access to books to study from even for an Open Book Examination.
This is not some escape mechanism to not study for exams. Most students have been studying continuously in this semester, from giving internal assessments, to maintaining their mandatory attendance. There is need for conversation for all parties involved to reach a workable solution here.