With the future of lakhs of students at stake, the UGC has advised HEIs to hold examinations through offline, online or blended mode
Due to the closure of educational institutions necessitated by the pandemic, a massive upsurge in online teaching has been noticed throughout the world and in India, too. The availability of quality e-learning resources such as SWAYAM, e-PG Pathshala, Swayam Prabha, CEC-UGC YouTube Channel, the National Digital Library as well as online lectures developed and delivered by teachers have helped students complete their courses. Now, the obvious task of assessment of learning outcomes remains. In April, the University Grants Commission (UGC) constituted an Expert Committee for Examinations and Academic Calendar. Given the spike in the number of Coronavirus cases, the UGC requested the panel to suggest options for conducting the examinations and holding admissions for the new academic session. On July 6, the UGC issued revised guidelines which stated that final/terminal semester examinations must be conducted by all universities/ institutions by the end of September.
In the guidelines, issued in consultation with the Home and Health Ministries, care has been taken to ensure the health and safety of students and provide equal opportunity, too. The institutions were advised to conduct examinations through offline (pen and paper), online or blended mode (online and offline) as per feasibility and suitability.
According to the UGC, by July 18, as many as 194 universities had conducted the final year examinations, while 366 were in the process of doing so. Out of the 755 universities from which responses were received, 560 had either held the exams or were planning to conduct them. By July 24, out of 818 universities, 603 had either conducted tests or were planning to hold them. Considering the problems of students of terminal semesters or final year who have a backlog, the UGC has emphasised their compulsory evaluation by conducting examinations in offline, online or blended mode. In case a student is unable to write the test, s/he may be given an opportunity to appear in special examinations for such courses or papers, which may be conducted by the university as and when feasible, so that the student is not put to any inconvenience or disadvantage.
The UGC maintains that “Examinations are an integral part of the education system and the measure of a student’s learning, knowledge, skills and other competencies.” It further states that “Performance in examinations contributes to merit, lifelong credibility, wider global acceptability for admissions, scholarships, awards, placements, and better future prospects.” Here it is worth mentioning that students who have been studying hard to score more in a competitive environment need to be provided opportunities to demonstrate their merit, academic credentials, skills and knowledge. Depriving them of such opportunities will be a setback to their year-long efforts. Examinations are crucial for every student and more so for final year students who are ready to embark on their journey of life and work.
Given the effects of COVID-19 globally, universities in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and Singapore, too, have given various options for examinations to their students. Since teachers and students across the world and in India have adapted well to online teaching-learning, the most favoured option in the present scenario for conducting examinations has been through the online mode.
Many universities have held examinations by employing video-conferencing apps, in-house Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or with the help of other suitable software and digital platforms. While institutions, which have developed their own LMS, have an edge over others, various student and teacher-friendly platforms are available where online examinations can be conducted, monitored and password-protected answer papers safely uploaded.
In fact, in the pre-COVID-19 era, the UGC had granted recognition to seven Higher Educational Institutes (HEIs) to offer degree, diploma and certificate programmes in fully online mode. With the recent announcement of the ‘Pradhan Mantri e-VIDYA programme’, the top-100 educational institutions of the country are likely to conduct full-fledged online degree programmes and examinations in coming years. Online learning and examinations will boost digital literacy, help in imparting quality education to underprivileged students and increase the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education.
Online teaching during the lockdown has also been instrumental in helping PhD students with submissions of PhD theses, evaluations and viva. Another aspect where the online method of learning can be put to use is for the training of teachers. This can include talks and webinars about the design and delivery of lectures and evaluation methods using digital platforms. Online discussions and exchange of thoughts would be of much help in the formulation of multi-disciplinary research projects.
In order to help in adjusting with these extraordinary times and with the new pattern of examinations, the UGC has given enough time to universities to complete their final-year examinations. Being a statutory body for coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education, the UGC’s decision intends to bring uniformity in the online examination processes and platforms of all HEIs. This will give students graduating from any part of India a level playing field.
Given the UGC’s mandate to streamline and improve the education system and bring it at par with global standards, this latest decision to conduct examinations via different modes during the pandemic has come at the right time for lakhs of students, keeping in mind their career prospects and the future generation, too.
(The writer is Vice-Chancellor, Central University of Gujarat)