Saturday, November 28, 2020

    If a University Could Speak

    The UGC insists on conducting final year examinations amid the pandemic, what is the teaching-learning community thinking on this issue?

    Inadvertently, the current pandemic has become the cause of an ongoing tussle over holding the final year examinations for university and college students. The University Grants Commission(UGC) has issued guidelines, in consultation with the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Home Affairs, for conducting the final year examinations online or/and offline, in accordance with Standard Operating Procedures. 

    The students and faculty have opposed the same on grounds of technical and logistical difficulties and health concerns. Serial deferments of the commencement of examinations from July 1, 2020 to July 10, 2020 to mid-August 2020 are outcomes and index of this tussle. Rapped by the Delhi High Court, in an affidavit filed on July 13 2020, the University of Delhi had informed the Court that exams will be conducted in the OBE (Open Book Examination) mode remotely from August 17, 2020 to September 8, 2020. As of a notification dated July 15, 2020, the examinations shall begin on August 10, 2020 and shall conclude on August 31, 2020.

    As someone who had embarked, in the mid 1990s, on a teaching career in sociology in the University of Delhi, I have lived through the vicissitudes of higher education in undergraduate teaching programmes. But before today, my mind hadn’t chased the idea of an insurance policy that covers students for examination anxiety since most students are on the brink. Like the migrant workers’, the looming humanitarian crisis of university students is equally an institutional crisis that diminishes the value of a university by depleting its very idea and ethos. 

    In terms of structure and function, educational institutions are about the articulation between imperatives of attaining pre-defined goals⎯by stipulated means within defined norms and procedures⎯and the assigned actions and interactions among students, teachers, administrators and non-teaching staff. Their primary goal is to transact formal curriculums in the disciplines offered. This is achieved through a triptych of lecture-discussion, reading-writing, and evaluation-examination held in a balanced exchange.  The three, appreciated together, create a culture⎯bringing into play numerous elements viz. performance, interaction, authority, creativity, curiosity, diligence, anxiety, innovation, insights, and a critical outlook. 

    Striving towards institutional imperatives involves much more than a rule- bound pursuit of these goals. Educational institutions, inherently, are looms that weave fabrics of cultures that are dynamic, flavourful, diverse and effervescent. Every new generation of students is a conduit to transmit these to the larger society. 

    The university has been in the throes of ‘reforms’ since the past two decades. The two prominent dimensions of reforms in undergraduate programmes pertain to, one, restructuring of courses and a revision/modification in course content; two, revamping of ‘modes’ of the programme in the following sequence: annual system (till 2010-11), Semester system (2011-2012), FYUP (Four Year Undergraduate Programme, 2014-15), Semester system (restored for 2014-15 incoming batch after the scrapping of FYUP), CBCS (Choice Based Credit System, 2015-2016), and CBCS-LOCF (Learning Outcomes-based Curriculum Framework, 2019-20). An elemental change occurred when the frequency of examinations was doubled through a shift from annual to semester mode. 

    This altered frequency of final examinations had invited criticism, protest and skepticism from some quarters of teachers and students. A staunch premise of the opposition foretold the damage brought upon the qualitative aspects of an unhurried pace of teaching-learning. The other side of the fence saw no merit in opposing biannual examinations and the accompanying bifurcation of courses. Teaching-learning X amount of syllabus in one academic year was considered equivalent to teaching-learning X/2 in half a year.  Thus, the restructuring of courses, halving of papers, mathematical reduction of reading lists, and biannual examinations led to: a). the compression of  teaching and learning; b). the expansion of evaluation and examinations. 

    The ‘reforms’ have disturbed the balance of function and value exchanges between the three axes of the triptych. Consequent to the compression of teaching-learning, the lecture-discussion axis is tending to lose elbow room. Added to this is an increment in the number of courses offered and a swelled density of the student population in view of the affirmative action policies. Indeed an unfortunate state of affairs that such inclusive and progressive measures have to contend with constraints of inadequate number of lecture and tutorial rooms, crammed classrooms, conference halls, and sports facilities. The contractualization of teaching positions too has rendered the nature of student-teacher interaction contingent, fleeting and temporary. The system no longer guarantees continuity, familiarity and comfort level with a particular set of teachers; it is designed to fragment the teaching-learning of a particular course by apportioning it to two (or more) faculty members. The precarious nature of employment is disruptive to ritualistic interactions and practices that bring forth a culture of teaching-learning through routines, designated settings; stipulated time slots and traditions of teaching. 

    The experience of the third axis of the triptych changed long since the computer, tablet, and smart phone screens came in-between the eye and the printed word and the keyboard between hands (manipulating writing tools) and the script.  With the Internet becoming a galactic portal to resources held by libraries, reading-writing relocated on a virtual outpost. But the Internet cannot be held responsible for systematically destroying the key essence of reading-writing that is reflection. In holding moments of thought emerging from and leading to thoughts, reading shaped the university into a space where contrary ideas jostled both as critique and a context to reimagine social structures. The time and the motivation have all but vanished in the frequency of semester system exams; students’ assignments and answer scripts are proof of empty consumption of texts and indifferent writing.   

    By definition, examinations are instruments for evaluating a student’s grasp of a particular discipline measured in terms of percentages and scores. Conventionally, they are conducted in physical spaces of halls or rooms where examinees are seated in rows at a maximum possible distance from each other. The head of the room is reserved for invigilators who distribute question papers and answer scripts, gather the latter at the end of an exam and deposit them with examination committee members. They keep a track of time and watch over examinees lest they cheat. The system is deemed efficient if the examination process is carried through to completion without glitches. 

    But, there is much more to examinations than these procedural and technical aspects. Designed to create a meritocracy, they are socially constructed sites through which society validates an individual’s worth, life-chances and access to resources by aggravating a spirit of competition, achievement and aspirations. Examinations test students’ comprehension, memory, writing, reading, time management and analytical skills, stamina, mental strength, emotional well-being, and nerves; they are about fear of failure, consequences of a poor performance, future prospects, social ostracism and self-esteem. 

    Even under ‘normal’ and predictable conditions, familiar settings, practiced formats, students in general, dread exams. The pandemic conditions, from students’ point of view, have ripped a big hole in everything they held as ‘normal’, predictable and familiar. In a growing chorus of voices, they are saying ‘no’ to final year exams at this bewildering juncture. The decision to go ahead with exams comes across as a move that prioritizes goals of technical efficiency of the university machinery rather than the concerns of students.

    As suggested by many students and teachers, it is possible to evaluate students on the basis of internal assessment of the sixth semester or the average of two and a half years of semester exams. This is also an opportunity to correct imbalances that have crept into the triptych of teaching-learning. Dropping the sixth exam entails only a small contraction of examinations; but it will, in a big way, reaffirm the value and function of lecture-discussion and reading-writing. 

    Examinations for the final year students under the prevailing conditions portend to refigure the university into a prize catchment area of mental breakdown cases and a wellspring of suicidal currents.  It is vital to pay heed to students’ voices. It is they who confer value upon universities.

    Anjali Bhatia teaches Sociology at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi, New Delhi.


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    The Latest

    Farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh Stage Massive Protests Against Farm Laws

    Even the usage of force by the police has not dampened the protesting farmers’ spirit as they agitate against the newly passed farmers bills that allegedly make them more vulnerable to corporate exploitation. 
    - Advertisement -

    RJD Leader Tejashwi Yadav Calls Nitish Kumar’s Bihar India’s ‘Unemployment Capital’

    Calling Bihar India’s unemployment capital, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav warns the Nitish Kumar government that it should be prepared to face protests if it doesn’t deliver the promised employment opportunities. 

    Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh and a Dedicated Law Against “Love Jihad”

    The issue of love-jihad has constantly been on Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath’s agenda and now we finally have it all set to implement a law to curb the alleged social malaise.

    Diego Armando Maradona Passes Away 

    Legendary football player Diego Armando Maradona passes away in Argentina. 

    Uttar Pradesh Prepares Ordinance to Curb Love-Jihad and Ban Mass-Conversions

    Uttar Pradesh has prepared an ordinance to tackle what has been seen as the menace of love-jihad and bring under control mass conversions.

    CONVERSATION | “Great literature is one of the most helpful resources to discover the spectrum of desire, love and friendship,” says Ruth Vanita 

    In a conversation with The New Leam, Dr. Ruth Vanita reflects on issues like sexuality, identity and body politics. And her engagement with issues in feminism throws new light on critical issues of gender that define our times. 

    Related Stories

    Life of Social Commitments—Elderly Activists Look Back At Young Dreams

    A story of life long commitment inspires generations to walk on the same path and convert dreams into realities. 

    Watch | Aishwarya Reddy’s Suicide and Why the Digital Divide Has Accentuated Educational Hierarchies

    This program is about how the widespread insistence on online teaching-learning in what is being called the 'new-normal' must be contested and challenged because it doesn't take into consideration the socio-economic locations of a majority of Indian students who come from economically disadvantaged sections and have no access to regular educational opportunities let alone dedicated technology or the internet for accessing online teaching-learning. It becomes clearly established that an already exclusive/elitist access to education becomes an even distant dream for lakhs of Indian students amid the pandemic giving way to issues such as forceble drop-out, discontinuation of academic pursuit, premature entry into the workforce or being entrapped into child trafficking or being forced into early marriages. The digital-divide is sure to have deep and long-term implications for the domain of education and we have ample evidence to show that it is resulting in suicides, mental anxieties and sheer desperation in students, the latest among such cases being the suicide of an LSR student in Telanagana who didn't get her fellowship money, couldn't afford to buy a smartphone to access her online classes and thus took her own life out of helplessness and a sense of being left out. The coronavirus pandemic has only accentuated and underlined the inherent hierarchies/cleavages and walls of separation within the Indian education system.

    Exploring the Pivotal Role of the Head Teacher in Transforming the Lives of Children in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon Valley

    This case study presents the exemplary leadership of a head teacher who leveraged upon community support to transform the school infrastructure and learning environment of the Gadgaon primary government school.

    The Pandemic , Unequal Opportunities and the Challenges Posed by the Online Mode of Learning

    In a society embedded in socio-economic hierarchies, access to online education is limited to the privileged and leaves behind a large section of those coming from marginalised backgrounds.

    Children in Public Schools Were Completely Neglected by the Agenda of Digital Education, And Nobody is Bothered

    It is perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes of our times that we are unable to provide an access to quality education and learning...

    CONVERSATION | “Great literature is one of the most helpful resources to discover the spectrum of desire, love and friendship,” says Ruth Vanita 

    In a conversation with The New Leam, Dr. Ruth Vanita reflects on issues like sexuality, identity and body politics. And her engagement with issues in feminism throws new light on critical issues of gender that define our times. 

    The Pandemic , Unequal Opportunities and the Challenges Posed by the Online Mode of Learning

    In a society embedded in socio-economic hierarchies, access to online education is limited to the privileged and leaves behind a large section of those coming from marginalised backgrounds.

    From Linux to Windows and Back

    What does it mean to use Linux and how is the user experience better than in Windows, here is a personal narrative of a user who sides with the former and tells us exactly why.

    Bihar Hasn’t Defeated the COVID-19 Pandemic, It Has Hidden it for the Sake of Electoral Politics

    Low testing, poor medical surveillance and lack of political will are behind significantly low reportage of COVID-19 cases in Bihar, but are by no means indicative of the end of the pandemic in the state.

    Are We Destined to Live with Violence?

    Is it ever possible to combat violence, and find ourselves in a world that generates love, calmness and peace?