Amid protest, Delhi University announces it will hold online open book exams for final year undergraduate students
Amid strong opposition from scores of students and teachers, Delhi University (DU) late Friday confirmed the tentative dates for the final year undergraduate exams and said they will be conducted online in the ‘open book format (OBF)’.
The exams are tentatively scheduled to begin from July 1 for 2.4 lakh final year students, including those enrolled with the SoL and Non-Collegiate Women’s Education Board.
The online exams will be of three hours each – two hours for answering questions and an hour extra for downloading the question paper from an online portal, and once done, for scanning and uploading the answer sheets.
The question paper will have six questions; students will be asked to attempt four. Additional time and assistance will be given to persons with disabilities. The exams will be held in three shifts a day for different courses and would test the understanding and analytical skills of students.
For many like Mohit (21), a final year BA (prog) student at Delhi University’s School of Open Learning (SoL), the decision is bad news.
Mohit (who goes by a single name) used to work as a laundry person before the nationwide lockdown rendered him jobless. He lives with his family of four in a one-room house in north-west Delhi’s Sangam Park.
He has not been able to attend a single online class over the last two months due to poor internet connectivity in his locality and for want of space in his house.
“We have been struggling to survive without work amid the lockdown. I take laundry contracts from hostels and paying guest students and since all of them have left town post-lockdown, I have no work. It’s tough enough for me to give exams in the normal format, let alone online. We just have one mobile phone at home; one that is very old and very slow,” he said.
Hundreds of students living in remote areas and in states with poor internet connectivity have been opposing online exams. Ever since it came to fore a few weeks ago that the university was considering holding exams online, students have held online protests, ran Twitter campaigns, and took part in hunger strikes at home to protest the move.
Three students have also filed a petition before the Delhi high court challenging the open book online examinations.
Several students said they could not even submit online practical assignments during a recently held exam due to the poor internet connectivity.
A final year Botany (Hon) student at Daulat Ram College, who lives in a village in Dibrugarh, Assam, said, “We recently had our online practical exams and it was horrible. I was standing on my terrace all drenched in sweat in the middle of the day trying to upload my PDF on time. The allotted time got over and I could not upload it as the file was bulky and the connectivity was poor. My teacher later allowed me to send it over email. It took me hours to do even that.”
For many students, even internet connectivity is a secondary issue, the primary being that they don’t have any gadgets.
Madhavi, a third-year student of an off-campus college and resident of Jharkhand’s Ramgarh district, said, “My father is a daily wage earner and I can’t ask him to buy me a smartphone. I had bought one in my first year of college with money I earned by taking tuitions but that phone is not working now -- its screen got damaged. I cannot even check my mails and then on Friday, my friend called and told me about online exams,” she said.
Although the university has assured help, several visually challenged students raised concerns about the availability of scribes. “Generally, our college helps us get scribes to write our exams. Now living away so far, I do not know how I will manage to get one in my village,” said a final year visually impaired student of Kamala Nehru College.
The University administration on Saturday, however, asked college principals to get applications from students who need information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure for the exams.
The notification further states that the university has engaged common service centres (CSCs)— ICT access points created under the ministry of electronics and information technology. “The students can avail of the facility free of cost. There are more than 2 lakh functional CSCs located in all gram panchayats and villages across the country. The information on CSCs will be available on the DU website,” said dean of examinations Vinay Gupta said in the notification. The dean said those who will still not be able to take the exams will be provided a chance to do so after September, once OBE exam results are out.
Several teachers said many CSCs in villages don’t have updated technology. Pankaj Garg, a teacher at Rajdhani College, said, “Most of the CSCs mentioned on the website are in a bad shape with no proper connectivity. This decision would adversely affect the economically weak students. If they are unable to take the OBE exams, then they have to wait till after the OBE results. This would delay the declaration of their results and affect future plans.”
Rajesh Jha, member of the DU executive council, said DU is trying to experiment with a form of examination that has never been used amid the pandemic crisis. “This switch from one mode of exams to another is in violation of the university rules. Even teachers are confused about how to set the paper,” he said.
Seema Das, a member of the DU academic council, said, “The format is very different as questions are set to evaluate the analytical knowledge of students. It requires extensive discussions on topics. We could not even take proper classes because of the lockdown. This format can still be used for a small set of students and not in a set-up like DU.”
Despite several attempts, Gupta did not respond to calls and texts for comment. A member of DU’s task force to combat Covid-19 pandemic said, “The administration will have to take some extraordinary measures in this extraordinary situation. We cannot wait for a long time as we will have to start the admission process in August. A chance will be given to those who won’t be able to attend these exams.”