Grass in the cemetery will look green and neat but cannot shake anything underneath. But, policy making is not about looking good. It has to also shake the legacy formalities that may have outlived its use and purpose. The current NPA and bad loan crisis hitting the banking industry is so scary, that the school-going children cannot be a victim of another question paper leak involving banks and other key partners in the system. Addressing procedural imperfections with extra-manual intervention is no longer an effective antidote.
The Digital India movement presents a solution to the problem at hand. School Education Secretary Anil Swarup’s tweet on the formation of a high-power committee to examine the process of conduct of CBSE exams comes as a huge relief. He has suggested the use of technology to make exams secure and foolproof. As the MHRD committee submits its report by May 31, here are a few reasonable expectations to ensure that the recommendations defeat the ‘con’mighty forces.
Enviro-Socio-Economic benefit seems to be the triple benefit of using technology as a powerful and positive disrupter in the question paper value chain. The current system of question paper setting, printing, distributing, answer paper collecting, evaluating and results publishing needs a fundamental change and adoption of technology tools. The inherent risk in storage and leakage, the environmental impact due to fuel consumption and felling of trees for printing and above all the loss of face and faith for a powerful brand like CBSE, necessitates an affordable, scalable, secure and environmental-friendly examination system.
It is estimated that in the current format, 25 per cent of the total exam costs is towards printing and distribution with high risk of forward and reverse distribution logistics. The dependency on multiple stakeholders—some of whom are disconnected from the education eco-system on regular days—makes the system vulnerable. Part-time partners who are exam-day friends and ‘unfriended’ after the exam season must first be eliminated. Employees in banks don’t stay in the same branch forever and every year is a new set of people requiring training and orientation.
The examination chain has three major value activities—question paper setting and distribution, exam administration and evaluation and results publication. The only value activity that has been digitally perfected is the results declaration. It’s difficult to digitise the entire value chain overnight but certainly possible to address them in parts beginning with the first value first. The ideal case would be a question paper authoring engine tool in a highly encrypted environment where question papers are set by different experts to meet multi-modal exam patterns.
It’s however an idea whose time is yet to come. An idea whose time has already come is digital twins. The present question paper setting mechanism can be digitally twinned in a secure question paper distribution from which the question papers can be distributed through a secure online highway that connects CBSE, its regional offices and exam centres in cloud-local server architecture. This online highway can be populated by devices with multi-layered architecture, defined rights and responsibilities to fix any possible breach or malpractice.
On the day of the exam, the highway allows only authorised people to download relevant question papers to be printed at the exam centre just a few hours before the exam. Even the printing requirement can be minimised if schools can co-create a robust computing infrastructure (will hold this for Phase 2).
In short, CBSE question paper distribution system needs to move brick and mortar to bits and bytes.