Dhanada K Mishra
e are an examination-obsessed country proven conclusively by the latest guidelines issued by the top higher education regulator, the University Grants Commission. The guidelines say the universities “are required to complete the examinations by the end of September 2020 in offline (pen & paper)/ online/ blended (online + offline) mode following the prescribed protocols/ guidelines related to Covid-19 pandemic.”
It took several weeks of deliberations by UGC to come up with the directive, which also modified its guidelines issued in last week of April. UGC goes on to say that “Academic evaluation of students is a very important milestone in any education system. The performance in examinations gives confidence and satisfaction to the students and is a reflection of the competence, performance, and credibility that is necessary for global acceptability.” Unfortunately, the so-called competence, performance, and credibility are much more dependent on the overall system and educational framework than just the final semester examination of a multi-year degree programme!
Coming as it does in the face of the ongoing Covid-19 spread, the UGC guidelines supported by the Ministry of HRD have plunged millions of students into despair and confusion. The annual ritual of examinations is an unchangeable fixture in the Indian education calendar even as the world has moved on from this relic of the past. Centralised board exams have very little value in a technology-driven world where certificates, grades, and ranks matter very little. After Independence when Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan chaired the first University Education Commission till the release of the latest draft New Education Policy 2019, examination has been a major target for reform. Dr. Radhakrishnan said, “If we are to suggest one single reform in University Education, it should be that of examinations.”
The subsequent committees have all emphasised on examination reforms. The new draft education policy emphasises on making examinations more adaptive, flexible, and focused on core concepts rather than memorisation. Our education system has lagged in adapting itself to global best practices though many committees and commissions discussed the matter for years. The scourge of coaching classes, student suicides due to examination pressure, malpractices are all symptoms of a deeper systemic malaise that the nation has not been able to diagnose and treat.
Now, states like Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab have declared their intention to circumvent UGC guidelines. Lakhs of students on social media are appealing for the same to be done nationally. Yet, the vice-chairperson of UGC goes on TV to say examination can be held as per UGC guidelines since the country is able to open and run even liquor shops, and as internet is available even at panchayat level!
Already, all examinations other than the terminal examination of final-year students have been scrapped with an alternative assessment process being used to promote students. The same can be done for final year students. Instead, many universities including Delhi University have twice announced dates for final examinations only to defer the same later. Most developed countries have long moved away from centralised terminal examinations at university level. In India, we have adopted a semester system after much dilly-dallying. Conducting common semester examinations across the university where papers are set and evaluated by a third party is an anachronism. When IITs, IIMs, NISERs, AIIMS, and Central Universities are excelling with the more-sensible fully internal assessment by the professor who teaches the course, why are we unable to adopt it across the board? Even a top university like Delhi University is unable to trust its faculty to be capable and diligent in assessing their students.
The 2019 draft education policy recommends: “All assessment systems shall be decided by the Higher Education Institutions, including those that lead to final certification. The Choice-Based Credit System of the current UGC will be revised and improved, in order to make clear the basic vision while leaving plenty of room for innovation and flexibility. HEIs should also move away from high-stakes examinations towards more continuous and comprehensive evaluation.” If only UGC had read what is being proposed by its parent body, the HRD Ministry, it wouldn’t have come up with such obscurantist guidelines!
The writer has a doctorate in civil engineering from University of Michigan and is a professor of civil engineering of BPUT.