The country is again disquieted with the COVID upsurge engulfing it. As a part of the efforts to break the chain of virus spread, the part or complete closure of various sectors, including the education sector, is enforced across the country. Taking a trip down memory lane, the similar closure of education institutions disrupted the teaching-learning and examination processes of session 2019-20 since March 25, 2020. This is the second academic session 2020-21 in series that is facing the brunt of COVID.
With examination time coming closer, the debates buzzed around for quite some time to not hold the already scheduled board examinations at class 10 and 12 levels. Consequently, some of the education boards announced the cancellation/rescheduling of the board examinations considering the panic in students, parents, teachers, and school staff alike to end the stress of incertitude. In many cases, the board examinations of class 12 have been postponed while these have been scrapped off for class 10.
Introspecting the scenario of the year-long unsettled state of education institutions due to lockdown enforced last year in the country, the loss of learning of students due to shattered teaching-learning activities is concerning. Unequivocally, the online teaching-learning activities came to rescue their sacrifice, but they lacked access and equity due to the prevailing digital divide and varying socio-economic conditions of the Indian society. The inherent limitations of digital mode of interactions such as the inadequate IT facilities with all students and teachers, absence of peer to peer interaction, ghost-like teaching, lack of physical mentoring, detestable screen-time requirement, etc. led to reduced knowledge gain by the students. Also, the sacrosanct examination and evaluation resorting to online mode for quantifying learning levels of students in the traditional education system got unconsecrated. Despite numerous IT solutions coming up for carrying out proctored examinations, the dependence on hugely varying IT facilities at student and institution end has limited the attainment of complete fairness in the evaluation of student learning levels.
Undoubtedly a lot of educational innovations have been made through digital interventions, but the insufficiency of such remote learning and other associated facilitators made learners crazy for on-campus teaching-learning-examination-evaluation activities.
The students and teachers both desperately want to have on-campus teaching-learning activities, but the schools and colleges could not hold the on-campus classes due to the COVID restrictions imposed in respective states. Some schools and colleges became functional from their campuses for a short duration before the second surge COVID compelled for their closure again about one year later the first lockdown. Nevertheless, in such frequent disruptions, the online education gave respite to the learners as well as teachers, but when it comes to examination for assessing the learning, the offline is still harped upon by regulators though contested by students.
Remodel assessment process
The ongoing conflict between the education system and students as its beneficiaries in respect to the rationale of holding offline examination for online teaching necessitates holistic thinking. For a cogent solution to the problems arising out of sudden disruptions like those faced since last year, there is a need to understand some of the core issues and look for solutions.
The purpose of examination in formal education should be discerned as an approach to assess the learning levels of the learners after the prescribed content is taught. Usually, there will be 2 to 3 hours of examination for particular subjects with the complete syllabus covered in the respective question papers which are supposed to be answered in the duly invigilated environment. Howbeit, during the session, the mid-session/term examinations are conducted with part syllabus coverage as part of continuous evaluation but are not given due consideration in the final board examinations of secondary and senior secondary level. Accordingly, the performance of examinees in the question paper indicates the extent of learning and knowledge level possessed by them. Cumulative performance indices decide division/grade/pass/fail for them, in particular, class end-of-session examinations, which are used in the future for moving on to the next class, getting employment, etc.
In order to find the solution to replacing the final examinations as tools for learning level assessments in any class up to the senior secondary level of education, let us try to reason out the following;
Why the continuous evaluation does not replace the final examination?
How the final examination of 2-3 hours entitle for better assessment vis-a-vis mid-session/term examinations for particular syllabus coverage?
Why can’t the number of mid-session/term examinations be not made rigorous and sacrosanct like board examinations and synthesized as a replacement of final examination?
Why can’t the pattern of questions in online examinations be made of such a kind that it is akin to open book examination such that no proctoring is required?
In the precarious state of online education, academics must contemplate three key aspects. Firstly, let us depend solely upon the continuous evaluation by holding portion-by-portion examinations in a sacrosanct manner. Secondly, the preparation of questions is carried out diligently to extract the real worthiness of learners and make it an even open book examination and get rid of any proctoring in the online examination. Thirdly, the limitations imposed by the digital divide can be partly taken care of by creating nationwide mutual cooperation among education providers for sharing their digital infrastructure. This shared digital infrastructure could facilitate access to regional students calling for it irrespective of whether they are from a respective school or not.
The repeated disruptions in classroom teaching-learning processes on account of pandemic essentially call for brooding amongst academics and regulators for evolving an affirmative action plan in which the online education is integrated with online examination throughout the session. It is high time to realise and act upon to circumvent the disturbances in academic sessions incurring any loss of opportunity to the student community in new normal. To bring an end to the anxiety among students, the online education model should inevitably have student assessment through a well-articulated online examination system regulations without any variability. Seemingly the on-line education is to stay back and obligates effective framework for all levels of education so that students are not panicked frequently time and again.
(The views expressed are the writer's own)