Why an absolute reliance on online examinations may not be the answer
Differential learning capacities due to contrasting social backgrounds of students can only be properly addressed through teaching and socialisation nurtured in real classrooms, and not through teachings on virtual platformsUpdated: May 25, 2020 15:58 IST
Recently, many of India’s leading universities have announced the introduction of online open-book examinations for final year students. The process requires students to have Internet access, the latest smartphone, books and quality study material wherever they are currently locked down. The prospect of online examinations has brought anxiety among students and teachers.
The RC Kuhad-led expert committee of the University Grants Commission has recommended other possible modes of evaluation, such as assignment/presentation-based assessments. But due to the extraordinary situation brought by the coronavirus pandemic, e-learning has been projected as a viable substitute for completing educational institutes’ syllabi. However, in the process, certain basic ground realities have been overlooked.
While teachers tried to complete their syllabi using online methods, students struggled to cope with it, with many of them not receptive to the idea for various reasons. An online survey conducted by the Department of Communications, University of Hyderabad, suggests that a majority of the respondents faced problems with online education. Similarly, a survey among the students of Delhi University’s Lady Shri Ram College revealed that even in the institution where the majority is economically and socially affluent, the students are wary of the prospect of online examinations.
A sizeable number of students of central universities are out-station students, who are stuck in their hometowns since the March mid-semester break. Many of them don’t have their books and notes with them, and are struggling to cope. A significant section of students is locked down in regions with intermittent Internet access. There are also numerous students who are handicapped simply because they don’t have smartphones and laptops. Even students who have smartphones point out, rightly, the severe strain long hours of studying on smartphones bring on their eyes. Besides, many students have had, among other challenges, difficulties coping with contingencies stemming from malfunctioning smartphones and laptops, the inability to easily navigate new apps, and the lack of quality e-resources in Hindi and other languages.
A sizeable section of university students is from poorer households where the sheer lack of physical space within homes makes quality and uninterrupted learning a luxury. It is also necessary to factor in the special needs of students with physical disabilities, who may not have access to technologies that support extensive online learning, and instead, depend heavily on special resources and the infrastructure provided within campuses. Likewise, we simply cannot overlook the specific obstacles faced by a large number of women students, who share the burden of routine household chores, increasingly so during the lockdown.
Furthermore, the implications of online examinations for the socially- and economically-marginalised students who are concentrated in the open and distance learning (ODL) mode of various universities have to be considered. The ODL mode students are a very large component of many universities. Due to the lack of seats in regular colleges, scores of students, many of whom are first-generation learners, have become dependent on ODL. Can we really expect these students to be in a position to appear for an examination any time soon?
Differential learning capacities due to contrasting social backgrounds of students can only be properly addressed through teaching and socialisation nurtured in real classrooms, and not through teachings on virtual platforms. Direct classroom teaching creates a public space in which social and political understanding grow through collective participation of diverse individuals and groups. In contrast, e-learning tends to shift the entire burden of education onto the individual, isolates the learners from a real public space, and makes them overtly dependent on digital technology and gadgets that are synced to homogenised modules of learning.
Considering the difficulties with online learning and teaching, and the related pedagogic issues, policymakers, and university administrations must take into account the genuine concerns of students and teachers, and work towards a viable solution that is acceptable and just to all stakeholders.
Maya John teaches in Delhi University
The views expressed are personal