Kriti Gupta, correspondent at DU Beat in an exclusive interview with Ms Abha Dev Habib, Treasurer, Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA), discussed the online examinations, open book exam, plight of final-year students. Read on to find out more..
Kriti: Why do you think Open book examinations are a bad idea for the students Delhi University?
Ms Abha: OBE in itself is very discriminatory. There are two things which have happened with OBE, one the process of taking the exams has been changed completely and the other is the pattern of examination has been switched. Open book examinations have a very different pedagogy of teaching and learning. Keeping this in perspective students in the Mock examinations were expecting model question papers but by its end they were feeling completely cheated. Another thing which was annoying about the mock tests was that when they log in they see there are question papers as per different streams so they started looking for papers as per their streams without realising that everything uploaded as question papers are just dummy papers. The university didn’t want them to attempt any questions, it just wanted to give them a practice of download, scan and upload, but this wasn’t made clear which resulted in making students encounter a situation of panic. Even those who understood this were feeling betrayed. Coming to the process of OBE, the process in itself is very biased. Considering the situation we are in everything is being done online as we have no other choice but then, the university must have thought upon a way to minimise this discrimination. There are some students who are tech-savvy and are able to follow up on things, while there are others who don’t know how to compress a file. So, once again the connectivity and the knowledge of technology is making a difference. There are students resident in Bihar, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir where there are serious internet connectivity issues. Expecting people caught in different circumstances to attempt the same exam is extremely unfair. The process is very tiring the student is panic stricken all the time so, students right now aren’t sufficiently equipped for it. This proposed pattern of examinations isn’t a test to one’s intelligence but a test about how well equipped one was.
Kriti: Why do you think making the students appear for centralised examinations right now isn’t a correct measure?
Ms Abha: We need to understand why we conduct examinations. We conduct examinations for judging the learning outcomes of a course work and for that to happen its very important for us to first engage the students and then access them. However, this time due to the outbreak of the pandemic that engagement didn’t happen. There were no efforts from the government and the University to make e-resources in the form gadgets available to the students. There are no scholarships in the country which can ensure the maintenance of a laptop or a computer. In the entire DU from one college to other and from one department to other, the amount of efforts made are different, and even when a teacher made an effort the outreach of that effort was different. For example, I was teaching a class of 46 students, towards the end of April after seeing that the university and college aren’t conducting any surveys I conducted one for my students. In the survey 95% said they get reading material and are able to follow but, when I asked why are they not able to come on Zoom a large number said that it was due to connectivity issues. 20% also said that the home environment isn’t okay for an online class. We need to understand that we have not been able to teach evenly to all students and therefore, centralised examinations are something which are being opposed by the teachers. Having a centralised semester end examination is based on the assumption that a minimum has been done for all students. This time that minimum hasn’t been done. Students are in a very difficult situation, many households have lost jobs, for girls the management of the household work along with studies is also a problem. We have students with unequal home environment. Another very important issue which came up was about the surveillance by family members, as the students are in front of the screen with earplugs for a large period of time. When DUTA conducted a survey to measure the success in reaching out to students via e-resources, 75% students out of 51100 said, that they were accessing the material and classes through smartphones, only around 12% said they had laptops, and as per 6% they had neither smartphone nor computer. Students had a very frustrating time. When I was doing internal assessments I did as much as I could do for them and this kind of a thing isn’t there in a centralised examinations and hence, we are opposing it.
Kriti: What support and guidance was provided by the Delhi University to its teachers, for the conduction of online classes using different forms of e-resources?
Ms Abha: The Lockdown was very sudden and to be honest we weren’t prepared for it. The university had a mid-semester break from 8th to 16th March, on 19th March the university sent a notice of closure, and on 21st June the PM announced a lockdown. 19th onwards we started receiving notices from DU and the MHRD saying that teachers have to engage in teaching-learning processes through e-resources, we did try but there wasn’t sufficient preparedness for that. Institutional aids in the form gadgets, data and coordinated efforts at the level of colleges and departments weren’t provided. I am from Miranda House and there we had a large number of departmental and academic committee meetings which helped us in learning many new things from Zoom to Google Classrooms, through which we were able to deliver something to students. But, talking to my colleagues I got to know that not many units did this. There were no circulars for the college administration and department to hold meetings. Of course when the MHRD asked the university about the compliance report it asked the colleges, which included the problems faced and the amount of teaching done. However, we knew that the answers to these questions we received from the students were not honest because the University never provided a structure to be followed by its colleges. In this whole e-teaching and learning process labs have been badly hit we were not able to compensate for the labs, but suppose if all science teachers would have come together there would have been a possibility for us to come out with a better solution, but the University did not take any such initiative.
Kriti: University Grants Commission, has recently passed its set of revised guidelines on examinations and the Academic Calendar for universities in the view of COVID-19. The new guidelines very clearly highlight upon the necessity of the conduction of exams “it gives satisfaction and confidence to the students,” mentioned the guidelines, what is your say in this matter?
Ms Abha: Right now students are full of anxiety and the kind of mock examinations they have encountered in Delhi University doesn’t provide them with any confidence. Till the time the final examinations won’t happen they would be panic stricken. After the tweet by the minister on 24th June, all the higher education students in the terminal semester of the country were looking forward for a set of guidelines which valued their physical and mental well-being over an examination. The UGC is keeping quiet on all the difficulties students are facing. I was personally very disappointed by the UGC guidelines, for me it is like a bad term paper, firstly it’s a late submission and secondly it is incoherent and irrational. There was no need for these guidelines as this was what exactly their earlier guidelines were being interpreted as. One error which I think has been done is to equate a state university with a central university and then to equate all other central universities with DU. In a state university there are mainly local students and as far as connectivity issues are concerned they form a more homogenous set. Delhi University on the other hand caters to a very diverse group. Hence, UGC must have made a difference in between a central and a state university, and there also Delhi University which is attended by the largest number of outsiders is different. The UGC should have responded not through common guidelines but looking at the conditions of Delhi University in specific. I would also want to add for SOL and NCWEB, almost 95% of these students are from the region of Delhi NCR which is one of the worst hit by the pandemic. Apart from that, a large group of SOL students are from marginalized sections apart from the reservations .Pushing such students to have a smartphone with scanners and everything else is extremely unfair. DUTA has received so many messages from students in which they are telling that about either themselves or their family members suffering from the virus. Running examinations in such conditions is a highly insensitive move by both the university and the UGC.
Kriti: The High Court issued a notice of condemn to the University after it delayed the open book examination for ten days, without any prior information to the court. As per our sources the university had replied to the notice in an e-hearing, yet the case isn’t going very well for them and is inclining in favour of the students. What is your say in this particular matter?
Ms Abha: There are two or three court cases going on in this matter, and DU is not looking good in either of them. Its lack of preparedness is being reflected everywhere. As per my personal understanding these last minute UGC guidelines have been passed only to intervene in the case and make the side of the students look weaker. UGC said two important things in the court, one, that they aren’t ready with the guidelines and it would take them a couple of more days, there are reports at 7:30 PM mentioning about this UGC discourse then at 8:30 PM the entire scenario changes and UGC issues a set of revised guidelines. Another thing which UGC points towards is that of these guidelines not being mandatory. However, as per my view the sole reason behind the publishing of these guidelines is to not to allow justice in court. Therefore, I see this entire instance as ploy to derail justice. Taking support of these guidelines the university lawyer can very easily say that we are doing it because the UGC wants it hence, its pre-planned move to prevent justice for students I feel.
Kriti: How open book examinations fail to issue support and guidance to the students belonging to the PWD and disability category?
Ms Abha: Students went to court regarding this matter as well. Due to the ongoing Pandemic it’s very difficult to find scribes for visually impaired students. Another thing which is significant is that in OBE it would be the responsibility of the scribes to scan and upload the answer sheets, so firstly finding scribes and then those scribes who are well versed with such technical stuff is further more difficult. I do not have complete data on this but the student who was on NDTV, Sneha, said, that since for such students the time allotted is five hours, they have no timers, as they haven’t been built accordingly, so that’s another issue. A large number of PWD students are in humanities courses, and if the reading material shared with them wasn’t made available in a way they can access, their teaching-learning was even more hampered than the others. The University never made efforts and enquiries about reaching such students, and now wanting them to give the same examination which everyone else is appearing for is in itself very unfair.
Kriti: Do you think mass boycott of the examinations can be a solution? As despite social media campaigns and wide spread protests the University fails to provide any assistance?
Ms Abha: Call of examination boycott shows the anger in students against insensitive decision of MHRD-UGC-DU. Recent experiences of JNU and DU earlier this semester, show that students often find it difficult to join such a call. Students have their own needs for a degree, and since their circumstances are different, students fail to respond to such a call in a similar manner. A real push to the movement will come from students who were granted relief by their Universities and States, which today stands withdrawn after the MHRD notification of 6.7.2020. The Notification makes UGC guidelines mandatory. We need to focus on a pan India movement on the issue.
Kriti: What alternate model of evaluation you suggest for final year students in the place of OBE?
Ms Abha: Apart from many other drawbacks of OBE one important one is that it gives a platform for professional rigging. All a students has to do is to give their login details and OTP to another person and he/she can attempt the entire paper on their behalf. An honest student would be marginalised in this process. A second semester student is being graded on internal assessments and past performances, that student has only one past performance and the University is ready to give credit to that, similarly a fourth semester student has three past performances and one internal assessment and the University is ready to evaluate students on the basis of that. It is beyond our comprehension why five past performances can’t be used for an under graduate third year and second year masters students. The terminal semester students have many more past performances where they have performed in centralized examinations, an average can be allotted on the basis of that along with their marks in internal assessment for grading this time. Degrees should be given by 31st July and then if a student wants to improve he/she can take the exams later. This is our alternative model and this has been suggested by many teachers within the University and a large number is pushing for this formula.
Kriti: Due to the outbreak of the pandemic online learning is the only alternative for education, at least for this year. Considering this what do you think are the three most important things a student of Delhi University must demand?
Ms Abha: The two or three things which a Delhi University student should ask for are, one, a movement on increasing scholarships for students, a minimum scholarship for all under graduate and post graduate students so that they can buy laptops, computers or mobile data. If online teaching has to happen for a year to deal with COVID we need these scholarships. Some sort of scheme has to be put in for providing every school going and college going student with adequate e-resources even if half the learning has to happen via online medium. Second, we should put forward the demand for the university to release a blue print of how classes will happen in future. Universities Abroad have already decided upon these things and we don’t know anything it’s already middle of July and only a few days are left for a new session to begin. There should be a clear notice about what kind of lectures and tutorials the university is looking forward to, about whether there is a possibility of putting any physical teaching component, and what would happen to the laboratory work. Thinking about the new teaching-learning process is something very essential for the University to prevent itself from going into another session of inadequate preparedness.
Kriti: What is the message you would like to give to the students who are suffering from the OBE scheme in multiple ways and are feeling hopeless about their future right now?
Ms Abha: I feel mental and physical wellbeing of citizens is a political issue and we have seen what happen with migrant workers, many were adversely affected, some died and lots were made to starve. We find it unfortunate that the government has taken somewhat a similar decision for the youth. It is important for the students to bring to the foreground about what difficulties they are made to go through. For Example our experiences which we tabulated when we were engaged in online teaching were very helpful for the movement. When students take online examinations and mock examinations it’s very important to produce appropriate data to junk them. I think if we are involved in these examinations everything which the students or teachers are going through should be brought out to the public domain so that some sort of relief can come. For instance if a large number of students aren’t able to give examinations this has to be tabulated and brought out. I think generating data and tabulating your difficulties is very important because I see that there is a connection between the design of a new education policy and the insistence to have OBE. There is a possibility of this becoming a constant form of examination of students especially for the next year, so considering that, having a note of our negative experiences becomes further more important. Students should not get demoralized and try their best to save themselves and the future generation by collecting and preparing suitable data.