Examination Facade: University and The Pandemic

The second surge has hit the Indian subcontinent; posing a dual challenge for the government, marked by mounting cases and a collapsing healthcare system. Amidst all this, the interests of the university students closely hangs on the thin thread of ignorance. Read to find out more.

The NCR (National Capital Region) has been transformed into a hellhole, the healthcare framework is being pushed to its breaking point, marked by acute shortages of Oxygen and medical resources while the death tolls are breaking records each day. In a situation like this when every household is being pushed into the grasp of the Pandemic, the plight of varsity students regarding the semester examinations is being pushed to a hotline of discussion.

Several student organizations have taken numerous positions on this argument about the examinations. On Saturday, 24th April 2021, All-India Student Association (AISA) of Delhi University wrote to the Vice-Chancellor, PC Joshi, demanding the cancellation of exams amidst the COVID-19 crises. Simultaneously, on Sunday, April 25, 2021, Student’s Federation of India (SFI), Delhi University, issued a release demanding immediate postponement of even semester examinations for all students of the university. The lines of demands were quite the same highlighting the status quo of students not being mentally prepared for the line of examinations, also highlighting the exclusionary nature of the online classes. After numerous appeals from the student masses and DUTA, the University of Delhi gave out its take on the exam contention, pushing the final-year examinations to 1st June.

But now the question comes to the nature of this decision. Was it just a mere action of pacification; is it useful in the current environment and what do the concerned parties say about this?

Since the beginning of the second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions such as DU  fail to postpone the university examinations . It poses a dual challenge  for them to effectively manage the pressure on its respective students in these tumultuous times. However, the postponement is not at all a clear solution for the stress-reduction or effective management. 

Professor Satish Deshpande, last year wrote about the same overlapping nuances of exams and pandemic,  

There is a logistically viable and ethically fair alternative that also meets the basic objective of avoiding uncertainty and delay in the award of degrees. This is to cancel the final semester exams while using the average of the marks obtained in previous semesters as a proxy for the final semester examination marks. The logistical advantages of this option are obvious – pandemic restrictions are automatically respected, and there is no need to worry about connectivity because prior examination results are already available. This is also a fairer option in every sense – it does not add to existing inequalities, and it is based on each student’s performance in earlier examinations held under normal conditions.

“Moreover, this prior performance will account for the bulk of the degree programs – for three out of four semesters (in most master’s degrees) and five out of six semesters (in most undergraduate degrees). This is likely to be true even when the final semester has a higher weight (because of more papers, or papers with higher marks) than the previous semesters. Finally, this method does not preclude the normal options that students have for re-taking examinations to improve their performance if they so wish,” added Deshpande in his article.

Regional disparities in internet access in India (Image Credits: Sanjit/CSE)

The student organizations across Delhi University have similar takes on this mosaic of examinations. Akhil, the conveyor of SFI DU talked to DU Beat regarding this boiling topic, stating, “We need to consider that examinations are not possible in a situation like this where our households are on economic and mental breaking points. Postponing is contingent as we need to consider the changing circumstances in play; plus, this hanging uncertainty due to the unclear notification on postponement brings a lot of anxiety in the psyche of the students. There should be clarity in the decision, but this hanging sword of postponing would be unfair.”

Another insight was added by Abhigyan, a student activist of AISA. While talking to DU Beat, he held, “This cancellation has taken place because of the mass mobilization of the student and teacher masses, summing up to be a tool of pacification, giving no real relief to the students. Even if you schedule the exams for let’s say June, certain things need to be considered here, several students would still be suffering at that time being referred to as collateral damage. Plus, the responsibility of the University needs to be questioned here, they haven’t provided any kind of reading material or anything to the students, without considering the online class divide but expecting them to know everything and appear for examinations.”

“AISA’s first demand is to cancel these OBEs, then pass the students and explore other alternatives so that the future of the students doesn’t tamper. Seeing continuous death tolls on your screen tears you up and then the University comes is expects you to appear for the OBEs, is rather inhumane in its very nature,” added Abhigyan.

The OBEs give a singular advantage that they allow conduction of examinations in a pandemic. But, it fails to consider technological and economical stagnation. Moreover, it also worsens the conditions inevitably for students with different backgrounds. Privilege may play a significant part in the OBEs,   but considering the mental  state  of the students, where every family is affected directly or indirectly by the second surge; the students are not in the stable  headspace  to appear for these examinations. In an online classroom mode, only the students with adequate technological resources and connectivity status can stably attend the lecture, the rest are excluded, and expected to adjust to the online exam model.

Stats of 2015, indicating the Digital Divide (Image Credits: The World Economic Forum)

However, cancelling the examinations without any alternative model puts the students into a more vicious situation rather than acting as a solution. For this DU Beat approached Siddharth Yadav, the state Secretary of ABVP. Yadav held, “Cancelling the examinations for final year students is not a very feasible option, last year the AVBP resented the idea of cancelling the examinations because of the problems that come with it like the degrees would show that the students passed due to the COVID-19 situation, which questions the credibility of the student in the long run. Any form of metric assessment such as the examinations should be present in the status quo for the benefit of the final year students. But when it comes to the time of such assessment, it needs to be closely monitored and the varsity needs to be flexible regarding this considering the changing situation. We are keeping an eye on the situation and shall make sure a student-friendly decision is taken.”

Considering the multiple stakeholders and the principle of inclusive education in these raucous times, the University should engage more on the well-being of the students by exploring other alternative means, rather than imposing a system of assessment that is legitimized with closed eyes. Thereby, transforming the privileges into merit.


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Feature Image Credits: The New Indian Express

Nirmanyu Chouhan

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