UGC’s decision on fixing examinations by Sept demands rationality and logic
The UGC defended the decision by quoting that top ranking institutes of the world such as University of Cambridge, Princeton, MIT and Imperial College of London have adopted the online mode of examination. But in India the situation is quite different; access to internet connectivity in every part of the country is not the same with many not having the required electronic gadgets to facilitate access to affordable and uninterrupted internet connectivity.Updated: Aug 03, 2020 19:26 IST
The prevailing Covid-19 pandemic has affected every sphere of our lives; the education sector is no exception. Students who wanted to travel abroad are stuck here due to suspension of commercial international flights. Those who could make it to their destinations abroad are facing various challenges; though US President Donald Trump fortunately withdrew planned visa restrictions that would have forced international students to leave the country if their schools held classes online.
In fact, the behaviour of the virus is highly unpredictable, impacting our ability to put effective measures in place to control it. Someone predicted its peak during July-August; but there are others who say the month of September would be crucial. Scientists of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have warned that India will be the worst affected country with 2.87 lakh cases per day by February 2021.
With such gloomy predictions of the pandemic, one could question the rationale behind the University Grants Commission (UGC) fixing the final year examination in universities by September end this year.
The UGC defended the decision by quoting that top ranking institutes of the world such as University of Cambridge, Princeton, MIT and Imperial College of London have adopted the online mode of examination. But in India the situation is quite different; access to internet connectivity in every part of the country is not the same with many not having the required electronic gadgets to facilitate access to affordable and uninterrupted internet connectivity.
This is likely to make situation more complicated instead of solving it. Further, delayed conduct of examination till the end of September will delay the commencement of the following semester, may be till October or November, even if the situation is conducive to conduct the examination. Would that not mean that an academic semester will have to be scrapped? This would be a serious academic deficiency that will delay degrees of the students at least by another six months with an academic year likely to be dropped in some instances.
Moreover, the decision of conduct of the examination by September end has not gone well with any section of the society. Students and their patents have protested; several state governments have opposed it and educationists term it a hasty decision given to the unpredictable behaviour of the virus.
The chief minister of Punjab has rightly termed the situation in the state totally non-conducive to the conduct of examinations. There are many other states where the situation is worse than Punjab; how could they afford the conduct of any sort of examination?
There is another dimension to the current situation in our education system which has not received the required attention of the education providers. Though private institutes had charged full semester fee till May-June from the students, many of these institutes curtailed salaries drastically. Others have not paid salaries since implementation of the lockdown till date. The faculty and staff of these institutes are under great financial stress apart from facing the uncertainty over retaining their jobs. Delaying conduct of the examination till September end and subsequent delayed commencement of the next semester is likely to keep them deprived of their salaries.
This is the time when politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats need to put their heads together to find an indigenous solution suited to our requirements, feasibilities and capabilities rather than following the institutes in advanced countries which are far ahead of India in effective curricula delivery and students’ academic evaluation system.
The best option in the given situation seems to be promotion of the students based on their previous academic performance. This would end the uncertainty and students who are passing out will be able to focus on future academic endeavours. Further, those continuing education in various teaching programmes should be facilitated to commence the new semester through electronic mode of curricula delivery. Online classes could be continued till the situation improves for on-campus education; something is better than nothing.
This is a very unusual situation and sometimes difficult decisions have to be taken. The government should also ensure that no faculty is deprived of salary, particularly by private education providers, for the work done by them from home during the pandemic.
The writer is former dean of postgraduate studies at Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. Views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com.