Delayed results, overworked teachers: Evaluating Mumbai university’s assessment system
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Delayed results, overworked teachers: Evaluating Mumbai university’s assessment system

Mumbai city news: Regular lectures are hit as teachers have to report to centralised assessment process centres for evaluation work

mumbai Updated: Jul 03, 2017 10:30 IST
Mumbai city news,University of Mumbai,on-screen marking
Colleges are preparing for the sytem to eat into their academic time, with teachers juggling between holding lectures and evaluating answer booklets.(HT File Photo)

In January, the University of Mumbai (MU), decided to do away with the traditional pen-and-paper assessment process and digitise its evaluation system. Reason: eight months earlier, a tip-off helped the Bhandup police arrest eight employees of MU’s examination department for allegedly running an engineering answer sheet scam, in which students tampered with their answer sheets a day or two after exams ended.

However, the implementation of the on-screen marking (OSM) system faced numerous roadblocks. Now, colleges are preparing for it to eat into their academic time, with teachers juggling between holding lectures and evaluating answer booklets.

The problems started in February, when the varsity couldn’t find enough bidders for the project. The university had to relax the tender conditions twice to attract at least three firms to compete for the project— as required by e-tendering norms.

Until April, when most MU examinations were almost over, there was little clarity among teachers on the mode of assessment to be adopted for examinations held between mid-March and April. However, the vice- chancellor halted manual assessments by the end of April, and Bengaluru-based firm Merit Trac was chosen to implement the digital assessment system.

This delay has not gone down well. “Our regular lectures are hit as teachers have to report to Centralised Assessment Process (CAP) centres for evaluation work. Since assessments started only after mid-May, a lot of work is still pending,” said the principal of a suburban college. He added that on any given day, at least five of his teaching staff are on assessment duty, forcing the college to arrange for guest lectures or other professors. To make matters worse, colleges are also busy with admissions to first-year degree courses. Teachers have to divide their time between lectures, assessments and admissions, leaving them overworked daily,” he added.

This is not the first time the varsity has experimented with OSM. The system was implemented four years ago for engineering examinations. However, the volume of work has gone up tenfold. The varsity is now required to scan and assess around 20 lakh answer sheets in place the technical faculty’s 2 lakh papers. To tackle this mammoth task, the contractor deployed 50 scanners and image enhancers at MU’s Kalina campus. Scanners are used at 142 CAP centres and 30 micro-CAP centres for assessment.

Much-delayed system
  • January 2017— At a meeting MU vice chancellor Sanjay Deshmukh announced his decision to introduce digital assessment in an attempt to cut down on malpractices and tampering of answer sheets
  • He said each of the 20 lakh answer booklets every semester would be scanned and assessed online by teachers at the new examination house in MU’s Kalina campus
  • Almost three months later, the examination house is still not ready, no training workshops have been held for teachers, and with no online agency bidding for the process, teachers had started assessing papers in the old paper-pen format, which has now been stopped
  • February—The first of these tenders were floated in the last week of February, followed by a second tender floated in mid-March, since the first tender could not attract the necessary three bidders
  • The process for inviting bidders for the third time started in the first week of April as MU was falling short of bidders once again
  • April— By the last week of April, MU announced that Merit Trac, a Bangaluru-based firm, would implement on-screen assessment. By this time, most teachers had gone on summer break
  • May—While papers were to be scanned from May 2 with the help of 50 scanning machines and 250 employees, less than five officers were scanning answer booklets by May 4.
  • This delayed assessment work by another couple of weeks
  • May—MU officials announced that digital assessment of papers began on May 12, with BCom paper
  • June—In a meeting attended by board of studies (BoS) members at MU’s Fort campus, it was revealed that more than a month after digital assessment began, just 10% papers have been assessed

The concept of on-screen assessment was first floated by a state committee headed by former state Information Technology (IT) secretary Rajesh Aggarwal. The committee, which was appointed in 2012 after two MU exam papers leaked within seven days, was tasked with implementing a system to ensure the secure delivery of examination papers.

“The two major issues MU faced at the time were question paper leaks and delays in declaring results,” he said. He said the main objective of the on-screen assessment was to bring more transparency to the examination system, especially re-evaluation.

It also aimed at making evaluation more convenient for universities catering to a large geographical area. On-screen assessment was one of the many recommendations the committee had made.

Aggarwal said MU should have implemented the project gradually. “Going from 2 lakh answer sheets to 20 lakh answer sheets was probably not a good idea,” Aggarwal, joint secretary at the central government’s ministry of tribal affairs, told HT.

He isn’t the only one who advocates a gradual approach. When the proposal for OSM was discussed during the varsity management council, three of the state’s representatives made a similar suggestion. “We told the varsity to start with 20% of the answer booklets and implement the project in a phased manner,” said Siddharth Kharat, joint secretary, state higher and technical education department.

One university which runs OSM on a large scale is Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University (YCMOU) in Nashik. The varsity introduced OSM in May 2015, when it assessed around 3 lakh answer sheets of agriculture students. They soon scaled it up to 7 lakh answer sheets and then all 36 lakh answer sheets — almost twice the number of papers MU assesses in a semester. “We ran three pilot projects before launching it on a large scale. Today, we can declare results within 22 to 27 days of an exam being held,” said Arjun Ghatule, controller of examination at YCMOU.

Aggarwal said the shortage of manpower is the main reason for MU’s inability to declare results on time. To speed up the evaluation process, he said the committee had recommended replacing the current pattern of subjective assessment to a more objective-type testing.

“It may not be possible to have a complete multiple-choice question paper for subjects such as literature, but MU can introduce a mix of subjective and objective testing. Students could take the test online, reducing the burden on teachers and staff,” he added.

First Published: Jul 03, 2017 09:12 IST