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Exam process on test

Samiksha Bhosle, 23, ended up taking a supplementary exam for a paper she had actually passed. The final-year Masters of Computer Application student had sought re-evaluation of her math paper last October, a month before the supplementary exams began.

mumbai Updated: May 25, 2011 02:00 IST
Kiran Wadhwa

Samiksha Bhosle, 23, ended up taking a supplementary exam for a paper she had actually passed. The final-year Masters of Computer Application student had sought re-evaluation of her math paper last October, a month before the supplementary exams began. With no response from the university, she took the supplementary exam and failed. Just when she had submitted her re-exam form for this session, her re-evaluation results arrived revealing that she had cleared the paper.

Bhosle’s case is not unusual. Several students have been victims of the administrative goof-ups in the University of Mumbai’s examination system. A glance at the ongoing examinations shows the loopholes. From repeating last year’s Marathi question paper to law students getting their paper 30 minutes late, this year’s exams, like every year, have their own set of errors. With 653 affiliated colleges and three lakh final-year students to cater to, the university has become an administrative giant that conducts one exam after the other.

“I wasted so much time and effort. I got my re-evaluation results on May 7, a year after I took the exam,” said Bhosle, who wants a refund of the examination fees she paid for this session.

The primary reason for this mismanagement is the manpower crunch at the Examination House. In the past decade, the varsity’s student population has gone up by 60% and affiliated colleges by 106% (from 317 to 653). But the administrative staff at the examination section has remained 250. Of these, only half are permanent employees. And these few people conduct 40,000 papers every year.

“There is a crude system that is not reliant on information technology,” said an official on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media. “Most of the staff are resistant to change and cannot cope with the quantum of work.”

This attitude has affected many students. Jolene D’Souza, who graduated in French in 2008, got her convocation certificate only last month. And only after she filed a Right to Information application asking where the certificate was. D’Souza wanted to do her masters in French translation in Canada but could not because she did not have her certificate. “The institute could not admit me based only on my marksheet. I had to waste a year,” said the Goa-based student who is now doing her masters at Puducherry.

Getting question papers to the centres is another hurdle. This year, smaller departments with fewer students were asked to conduct exams on their own. “Faculty were asked to arrange for hall tickets, set up exam rooms, collect question papers... more or less conduct the whole exam,” said a faculty member.

Late results
While conducting exams is an issue, the bigger issue is declaration of results. Final-year BCom results are declared late ever year. This time, engineering results were declared 90 days late. Even this session’s re-evaluation results have not been declared though the next session has begun.

According to the rules, results should be declared within 30 to 45 days of the exams ending. The primary reason for this delay is teachers not turning up to evaluate papers. Each college is supposed to send teachers to evaluate papers. While large colleges should send seven teachers, smaller ones should send at least four. Teachers are paid Rs 9 for each paper they correct.

Even declaring this year’s final-year BCom results on time seems difficult because most teachers play truant.

Of the 1,200 teachers appointed to come to central assessment centres to evaluate papers, barely half turned up. Of the 249 colleges that offer BCom, 42 have not sent a single teacher for assessment. About 100 have sent fewer teachers than they should have. And 100 have not sent any accountancy teachers.

Declaring results late has been a trend in the university for several years. Former vice-chancellor Bhalchandra Mungekar once made 12 law college principals appear in court to explain why results were delayed. “There was a public interest litigation against late results and I made those principals explain in court why the results were delayed. Teachers have a moral obligation to evaluate papers,” said Mungekar. “Colleges do not appoint teachers. Most of their teachers are temporary staff and once the academic session ends all these teachers vanish and they have no one to send for evaluations.”

Reform track
But things are looking up. This year, the university introduced bar coding and an optical marks recognition (OMR) system for better security and faster evaluations. The university was the first to introduce the OMR system in Maharashtra.

The bar coding system will ensure that a student’s seat number is nowhere on the answer sheet, making chances of malpractice negligible. The part of the paper with the seat number is removed by the supervisor and then sent to the university where it is fed into a computer. The computer then matches the barcode and seat number.

OMR reduces evaluation time by at least a week. Manual data entry of marks has been done away with. Now, a software reads the marks and directly transfers them to the computer.

Apart from this, the university has taken a tough stand on teachers not turning up for evaluations. It issued a circular stating that colleges that don’t send teachers for assessments will not get their results. To make it convenient for teachers, the university has created 17 assessment clusters across the city. Until two years ago, all teachers had to come to the university’s Kalina campus to correct papers.

“Decentralisation of assessments is the only way forward,” said Parvati Venkatesh, former dean of faculty of arts. “With the bar coding system, papers are secure and teachers need not go to assessment clusters. If a college has 1,000 students taking exams, the university should send the college 1,000 papers to assess and return in a stipulated timeframe. This would save a lot of money and energy.”

Interview Vilas Shinde, controller of exams

'Technology will change the face of the exam system'

While admitting that much needs to be done, Vilas Shinde, controller of exams at Mumbai University, pointed out that the staff are working hard to deliver results. Already, he said, a lot has been done.

The university is an administrative giant that spends most of its time conducting exams. What can reduce the burden?
The number of colleges, courses and students is increasing every day; the higher education scene is exploding. Reducing the burden of the examinations administration is difficult. However, some reforms and innovations will help. The massive number of answer books in various courses is difficult to assess within a stipulated timeframe since there is a dearth of examiners. To declare results on time is a Herculean task that can be resolved with joint responsibility. However, the university administration is always blamed. We are not shirking responsibility, but our officers and staff are working very hard. We are trying our best to declare results on time.

How have you integrated technology into the system?
While technology will change the face of the system, rigorous training for employees must precede it. Unique exam code numbers have already been implemented. We have also started bar-coding papers, lowering chances of malpractices. The OMR system will reduce administrative processes after evaluation.
We are also working on ways to reduce the examination burden on teachers.

What are the problems with the current system?
There are several problems such as a complex curriculum, rigid provisions in the statutes and ordinances, lack of infrastructure and technology, dearth of teachers for assessment and lack of knowledgeable and skilled employees. We are trying to find solutions and weed out problems.

How do you plan to streamline the exam system?
The first step is to update the database of teachers and provide them with smart cards that will help us update their assessment work. An examination audit is needed to declare results on time. We are installing a centralised air-conditioning system, sensor doors in restricted areas and CCTV cameras to secure the assessment process. The credit and grading system will involve continuous evaluation that will not rely only on exams. We want to create a question bank for paper-setting.