Why an absolute reliance on online exams may not be the answer?
Recently, many of the major universities in India have announced the introduction of online open book exams for seniors. The process requires students to have access to the Internet, the latest smartphones, books, and quality study materials wherever they are currently blocked. The prospect of online exams has generated anxiety among students and teachers.
The expert committee chaired by RC Kuhad of the University Grants Commission has recommended other possible modes of evaluation, such as homework / presentation-based evaluations. But due to the extraordinary situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, e-learning has been projected as a viable substitute to complete the curricula of educational institutes. However, in the process, certain basic realities of the terrain have been overlooked.
While teachers attempted to complete their program of study using online methods, students had difficulty dealing with it, and many of them were not receptive to the idea for various reasons. An online survey conducted by the Department of Communications at the University of Hyderabad suggests that the majority of respondents faced problems with online education. Similarly, a survey of Lady Shri Ram College students at Delhi University revealed that even at the institution where the majority are economically and socially wealthy, students are wary of the possibility of online exams.
A considerable number of students from central universities are students outside the station, who have been trapped in their villages since the mid-semester break in March. Many of them do not have their books and notes with them, and are struggling to cope. A significant section of students is closed in regions with intermittent Internet access. There are also numerous students with disabilities simply because they do not have smartphones or laptops. Even students who have smartphones rightly point to the severe strain that long hours of study on smartphones require. In addition, many students have had, among other challenges, difficulties in coping with contingencies stemming from smartphone and laptop malfunctions, the inability to easily navigate new applications, and a lack of quality electronic resources in Hindi and other languages. .
A considerable section of university students come from poorer homes where the great lack of physical space within homes makes quality and uninterrupted learning a luxury. It is also necessary to take into account the special needs of students with physical disabilities, who may not have access to technologies that support extensive online learning and instead rely heavily on the special resources and infrastructure provided within campus. Similarly, we simply cannot overlook the specific obstacles faced by large numbers of female students, who share the burden of routine household chores, increasingly during confinement.
In addition, the implications of online exams for socially and economically marginalized students who focus on the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) mode of various universities should be considered. ODL students are a very large component of many universities. Due to the lack of seats at regular universities, many students, many of whom are first-generation students, have become dependent on the ODL. Can we really expect these students to be able to appear for an exam any time soon?
Differential learning capabilities due to contrasts in students’ social backgrounds can only be adequately addressed through teaching and socializing in real classrooms, and not through teaching on virtual platforms. Direct classroom teaching creates a public space in which social and political understanding grows through the collective participation of diverse individuals and groups. In contrast, e-learning tends to shift the entire burden of education to the individual, isolates students from a real public space, and makes them openly dependent on digital technology and devices that are synchronized with homogenized learning modules.
Given the difficulties with online learning and teaching, and related pedagogical issues, policy makers and university administrations must take into account the genuine concerns of students and teachers, and work towards a viable solution that be acceptable and fair to all concerned.
Maya John teaches at Delhi University
The opinions expressed are personal.