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Drop pen and paper. Go online

| | in Oped

The Vyapam scam highlights the many problems of paper examinations. In contrast, tests administered online are less prone to security breaches, more environment friendly and logistically more convenient to give and take

The sensational Vyapam scam has taken the country by storm. High level link-ups and the alleged role of well-known politicians has ensured that media takes much interest in its unfolding.

Unfortunately, Vyapam scam wasn’t the only recent news regarding discrepancies in recruitment and entrance examinations. Last month, the Supreme Court declared the All India Pre-Medical Test void after reports of paper leak surfaced. Lakhs of medical aspirants across the country have to prepare yet again for the most stressful exam of their careers.

And the buck does not stop here. In March, the Uttar Pradesh Civil Services exam was cancelled after it was reported that the paper was leaked on Whatsapp 15 minutes prior to the examination. In 2013, the Staff Selection Commission examination suffered a similar fate. The list of such ‘leaked’ examinations is endless. For someone who is reading such news in the morning newspapers, it is a routine affair. But for students who prepare for such examinations for months and years, it can come as a huge setback in more ways than one.

Nationwide examinations are a tedious process for both, the students and the organisers. Considering that the majority of the examinations in India still follow the pen and paper mode, huge resource mobilisation is involved. Add to that the extremely high vigilance required at all the levels and the amount of paper needed for such examinations, and it’s clear why such a mode ofexaminations is a bad idea.

Yet, only a handful of examinations have taken to the online mode. But those which have taken this plunge rarely face such issues anymore. Most of the international tests such as Graduate Management Admission Test, Test of English as a Foreign Language and Graduate Record Examination follow a computer-based test pattern, with no reports of any glitches in the recent memory. In 2009, the US-based Prometric was hired to conduct the Common admission Test examination online. With the Indian Institutes of Management taking the first step, other institutions were expected to follow suit. However, such transition istaking painfully long.

Although the first edition of the online CAT had a few hiccups, the process has largely been smooth and hassle free since. Last year, Prometric’s five-year contract for CAT examination ended and the new contract awarded to Tata Consultancy Services. With an Indian firm taking charge of one of the most significant examinations in the country, the authorities should encourage other institutions to follow the same pattern.

For the past couple of years,  Central Board of Secondary Education has been giving an option between online and offline examinations to students appearing for the Indian Institute of Technology Joint Entrance Examination. Of the 13.03 lakh students who appeared for the IIT (Main) exam this year, 1.86 lakh chose the online mode. This is just above 14 per cent but experts say that it is expected to rise in the coming years.

There are multiple things that go in favour of online examinations. For one, it can be conducted in batches spread over multiple weeks. As a result, in case of any discrepancy, only a single batch will need to be re-examined. This also saves candidates from travelling hundreds of miles and facing exhaustion before reaching their examination centre. In 2011, the apex body for recruiting officers and clerks in public sector banks introduced the examination only. Though close to 20 lakh aspirants appear for the exam each year, there have never been any reports of discrepancies in the past four years, which is a testament to the process’ competence.

One of the roadblocks towards an increased number of online examinations in India is the lack of confidence of test authorities in private players. Though outsourcing entrance exams to private players is a common phenomenon around the world, Indian authorities are still averse to this idea — though they trust contractual workers who are involved at various stages of the examination.

Another downside of the pen-paper mode is the usage of huge quantities of paper. The Civil Services Examination and the Staff Selection Commission examination are taken by over 10 lakh candidates each year. There are other examinations also which attract lakhs of aspirants each year. All the talks of paperless initiatives come to a full stop here. Crores of rupees spent for transporting papers throughout the country inflates the cost of examinations, apart from increasing the chances of a security breach.

 

Whether it is the budget allocation or efforts to revamp the old structures, education has long been ignored by the Governments. All talks of privatisation and increasing efficiency are confined to political subjects such as Railways, Infrastructure and Defence. The time is ripe to have a closer look at the examination patterns and provide our youth with a fair chance of realising their potential.

 
 
 
 
 
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