'Discriminatory': Delhi University goes for open book exams, but what does it mean for students

Despite protests and campaigns, Delhi University decided to conduct the online exams for final-year students.

Published: 29th June 2020 08:15 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th June 2020 08:18 AM   |  A+A-

Online Exams, Open book Exams

Final-year students of Delhi University are staying at this Covid-19 quarantine facility in Manipur. They have no access to the internet, are struggling with poor cellphone connectivity. (Photo | EPS)

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Teachers and students argue that it’s a faulty method as it discriminates against those without access to books, notes and online resources, and it encourages malpractice and punishes hard-working students.

Theophilus Mashangva, a final-year student pursuing BA programme from Delhi University’s Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, is caught in a Catch-22 situation. Sitting on a mattress at a coronavirus quarantine centre in Manipur, Mashangva is wearied of swapping his SIM cards to get his phone connectivity.

It has been three days since Mashangva and 12 other students, who were set to appear in the DU’s online open-book examinations (OBE) scheduled for final-year students, were sent a 28-day quarantine at the isolation facility — a hut — after they reached the northeastern state from the national capital on a flight during Unlock 1.0. Besides being a sub-standard quality, the facility, Mashangva claims, has no internet connection, low phone network and sees frequent power cuts.    

On Saturday, the DU postponed the OBE, which was scheduled to begin from July 1, by 10 days “in view of the prevailing situation of COVID-19 pandemic”. However, the varsity’s latest move would not make much difference to Mashangva as he still has to spend another 25 days at the facility. With no other options left, he will  now have to wait for the online exams and the COVID-19 crisis to get over so that he gets an opportunity to write the papers by the end of this year.

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Teachers and students have been opposing the OBE method, citing issues such as the absence of study material for many students and lack of internet connectivity in various parts of the country, among others. They also point out the discriminatory nature of the exercise towards a large section of students with drastically unequal access to books and resources, offline as well as online. They also expressed their anguish at the lack of concern towards the special needs of physically challenged students.

“How am I supposed to write the exam? We are at a quarantine facility for 28 days. We can’t leave it before that. My village near Myanmar border is completely sealed due to the outbreak,” says Mashangva, whose village is located 4 km from the hut. Mashangva is not alone who is in such a dilemma. Thousands of other students like him, who come from remote areas of the country to study at the DU, had to leave the city in a hurry without enough study material after the university decided to suspend class. 

Jayashree Narzary, a final-year student of Miranda College, returned to her hometown in Assam’s Kokrajhar after the flights resumed operations amid the national lockdown. Unlike Mashangva, she has access to the internet and has a separate room where she is planning to write the exam. However, as the flood-prone state continues to receive heavy rainfall, she fears that her broadcast may be affected in the coming days.    

“I have a laptop, wifi connection and a separate room. But the Met department has already predicted heavy rainfall in the next five days. In that situation, there is a possibility that there would be power cuts,” Narzary says.  She added that the varsity is yet to announce anything on the mock test. “The varsity just postponed the exam by 10 days, creating more anxiety the students,” she says. Upendra Singh, a final-year student of BA political science (hons), recently returned to Delhi from his hometown in UP’s Khushinagar to appear in the OBE.

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“I had left the city in March during mid-semester break without books and study material, as I did not have any idea that the lockdown would be imposed. There is a network problem in my village. I could not even attend any online classes. As soon as trains resumed services, I returned to my PG in Delhi,” Singh says. Similarly, another DU final-year student Gita (name changed), who lives at a slum area in the national capital, says he couldn’t attend a single online class during the lockdown.  

“I live in a single room with a family of seven. My friends say the exams are feasible for those students who live in metro cities. But despite living in Delhi, I failed to join the virtual classes as I had to support my mother at work, do household chores, look after my siblings, and have only one smartphone in the family. I am not sure how I am going to appear in the exam,” says the student, requesting anonymity.
“Many of my friends are taking professional coachings, which cost around Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 per subject. I can’t even go to my college to write the exam as I am in a containment zone,” she adds.

What is Open-Book Examination?

In the open book examinations, students are allowed to refer to books, study material and lecture notes to answer the questions. They will have to download question papers for their course from the portal and upload the answers in two hours. They can take the exam sitting at home or wherever they are. The DU adopted OBE as a one-time measure to conduct examinations for the final semester students, including open schools – Non-Collegiate Women’s Education Board (NCWEB) and School of Open Learning (SOL). 

The varsity said it has engaged common service centres (CSCs) across the country for the students from states like Jammu and Kashmir, eight northeastern states and others to appear in the OBE as there are internet connectivity and network issues at various parts. There are more than 2 lakh CSCs across the country where the students can go and use the computers to write their exams. The duration of the exams will be three hours, out of which three hours will be for writing and one hour will be given for downloading and uploading the question and answer sheets.

Why are teachers, students protesting?

According to DU teachers, about 45 per cent of the students are from outside Delhi. These outstation students left the national capital in March for Holi without taking along their books and notes. Also, students from the northeastern states and parts of Jammu and Kashmir do not have access to the high-speed internet. “Maharaja Agrasen College has been converted into a COVID care centre, and more colleges are likely to be made COVID centres in the coming days with an increasing number of cases in Delhi.

How can the guidelines of the examinations for OBE be implemented in such colleges? It is causing mental stress among the students and teachers. We are receiving hundreds of distress calls from students every day,” says Rajesh Jha, a member of the executive council, DU. Pankaj Garg, a mathematics professor at Rajdhani College, says the career of lakhs of students is at stake due to OBE. 

“They are under tremendous pressure. They would somehow manage to appear in the exams. But it is creating a virtual divide between the rich and the poor. The students who can afford internet and laptop have hired agencies to appear in the exams. But some students are stuck in containment zones and have no means to take the exams,” says Garg. 

“It will also pave the way for mass copying. One student would solve the questions with the help of an expert, and then circulate the answers through WhatsApp. It is also unfair on the students who worked hard throughout the year,” adds Garg. The students should be promoted based on 50 per cent marks for internal assessment and assignments and the rest on scores of the previous semesters,” said the professor. 

No mock test yet

The teachers and students demanding to scrap of the exams also claimed that the varsity postponed the examinations to cover up its failure to conduct mock tests. “The university is making a mockery of the final-year students. The pandemic will not end in 10 days; rather it will only get worse. The decision will only create more confusion, stress among teachers and students. The UGC must intervene and direct the vice-chancellor and his administration to cancel the exams,” says Garg.

What do the students’ unions say?

The NSUI and the AISA recently launched a Twitter campaign and protest against the exams. Thousands of DU students took social media by storm, using the hashtag #DUAgainstOnlineExams. Within a few hours, it became the top trending on the microblogging site. “The HRD minister is playing with the lives of students by not conducting mock exams. The decision goes against the guidelines given by the UGC and it is unfair to the students,” says Lokesh Chugh, national secretary of the NSUI.

1st, 2nd year results on 50-50 formula

The OBE mode has been adopted by DU as a one-time measure for academic session 2019-20 in light of the coronavirus pandemic. However, many teachers and various students’ unions have opposed the decision to hold the online or open book test. The varsity has also decided against holding exams for the second and fourth semester of UG courses. Students will be evaluated based on internal assessment and marks scored in the previous semester. Both the criteria have been given 50 per cent weightage.

Despite protests and campaigns, Delhi University decided to conduct the online exams for final-year students.

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