Education in Times of COVID: Shun End of Course Final Examinations
The uncertainties in the examination system affecting students socially and psychologically have restricted their holistic development and learning capabilities.
Despite the hesitancy of the education providers, the frequent closure of educational institutions neccesitates online mode of examination for assessing the retention and application of knowledge of students. The educational institutions were coerced to opt for online offerings and develop/adopt certain online platforms and protocols for continuing their teaching-learning-evaluation activities. The potential threat of the spread of pandemic made the conventional pen-paper examination for end of course summative assessment infeasible and walkthrough was allowed to next higher classes based on some formative assessment. Nevertheless, the formative assessment is not carried out with the same rigour in all institutions primarily due to the absence of an appropriate and foolproof framework for it and secondly due to other factors such as the insufficiency of teachers, quality of teachers, sense of responsibility in teachers, institutional governance, student freedom, etc. As a result, the education regulators and the institutions endeavoured hard to hold the final examinations in offline mode as per the prescribed academic calendars, but the fear psychosis in stakeholders necessitated the frequent deferments that devastated the academic calendar and rendered anxiety in students.
The uncertainties in the examination system affecting students socially and psychologically have restricted their holistic development and learning capabilities. In the present circumstances, the students rarely study exclusively and there is the least conflict between their education and work/family/personal obligations as compared to the on-campus learning activities. In total, the prolonged absence of teaching-learning activities in campuses of educational institutions is limiting their performance and output quality. The education system as a whole being in firefighting mode for two academic sessions now needs to devise an infallible mechanism for validating the student knowledge and abilities of its application in such a disrupted environment. The accreditation bodies should also ponder upon the challenges faced in holding summative assessments of learning outcomes in students through conventional print-based examinations.
For strategizing the solutions to the prevailing problems, which may also crop up in the future, it is sine qua nan to start from the very purpose of examinations for learning authentication. Unequivocally, the purpose of education is to impart knowledge and capability of use of the knowledge in real life. The teaching-learning process is usually gradual and peace by peace transfer of knowledge gets ingrained in the students. The direct and indirect assessment tools essentially compel the students to continue the study and help the education system to authenticate the extent of learning. The prevalence of formative assessment during the academic session to assess the progressive learning of students and summative assessment at the end of the session is quite old and accepted well by all the stakeholders. Till the end of the course final examinations were held smoothly, the look for an alternative to conventional pen-paper final examinations was not imperative. Nonetheless, the difficulties faced in holding final examinations in pen-paper format warrant requisite changes in assessment and evaluation strategies.
While looking for alternatives, it entails a question of why the evaluation of knowledge, its retention, and ability to apply by students can not solely rely upon the formative assessment which is carried out at different intervals across the session till the course is complete. Let us compare the two modes of assessment namely formative and summative to reach the substitution of the conventional final examinations.
Considering the final course end examination of three hours and comparing it with the three formative assessment examinations of one hour each it is evident that the total period of examination for assessing the student learning in the respective course is the same. Thence, the summative assessment of three hours can be prima-facie replaced by more than three formative assessments during the course teaching.
Further, for any course, the coverage in frequent formative assessments is limited to smaller portions of the complete syllabus which is comparable to the course coverage of the summative assessment conducted at the course completion.
Undoubtedly, the integrity of formative assessments in the majority of cases is not comparable to the end-of-course summative assessment and is concerning. This can be easily corrected by the setting up of a stringent framework for formative assessment of student learning by use of available internet-powered digital technologies.
Under such circumstances, the efforts ought to be made for strengthening the formative assessment tools of direct and indirect type both. The discontinuance of physical classroom activities and adaptation of online examinations in place of pen and paper type invigilated examinations offers a congenial environment for redefining the formative assessment tools. Moreover, the current use of digital technologies for online examinations for authenticating student learning paves the way for creating digital platforms for frequent learning assessments of students during the teaching of course.
The efforts to shun the final end examinations of pen-paper type involve consideration of the following issues;
- specifying the formative assessment tools in line with prescribed learning outcomes
- student perception on the continuous assessment being a true indicator of their learning
- teacher perception on the continuous assessment replacing term-end examination
- digital divide to ensure access to all in case of remote conduction of periodical learning assessment
- limitations at the student and institution end in practicing formative assessment tools
- technological challenges in the creation of suitable robust internet-based access controlled & proctored digital framework for fair and transparent assessment
- authenticity of online examinations and other practices for learning level assessment
- fairness of online evaluation processes
- restricting the possible malpractices
- accreditation requirements
Thus, it will be prudent on the part of the academic community and education regulators to encourage greater uptake of online examinations in the formal education system. The cue can be had from the computer-based competitive examinations like JEE, NEET, CLAT, etc. being held successfully for admissions in different courses. It is an opportune time to create enabling robust framework for using digitally enabled formative assessment tools to evaluate the learning levels of students progressively in the respective course and get rid of the pen-paper type conventional final end-of-course examinations. This frequent learning assessment of students during the course teaching is likely to improve the extent of student engagement in teaching-learning processes and improve the learning levels of students as well as teacher involvement, provided it is conducted with the highest integrity, fairness, and transparency.
(The views expressed are the writer's own)