The ongoing pandemic is an opportunity to develop multiple evaluation designs for different levels
Exams are often equated with appearing at high-stakes competitions. Students burn the midnight oil and sacrifice even simple pleasures to meet the goal of scoring well. In India, exams are also a family affair, with parents chaperoning children to coaching classes, keeping them company, ensuring they eat well and even taking time off from work. The Indian psyche conceives of exams as an endorsement of students’ cognitive prowess, an actualisation of dreams (often the parents’), and a gateway to landing a ‘good’ job. Exams have, therefore, been a critical component of our curricular system that have been religiously practised and handed down.
However, the pandemic has exposed certain fault lines. While malpractices such as hiding bits of paper, torn pages from textbooks and formulae on palms, and mass copying, exchanging of answer sheets, dictation of answers by proctors themselves, and the latest, being equipped with tiny gadgets to outsource answers, and impersonation within the hall have been stopped, it has also wrought havoc on the system. A flurry of announcements called for reduction in the portions, indefinite postponements, cancellations, and automatic promotions.
When the exams were conducted, questions were sent online and students were mandated to submit their answers by post or hand them over personally to their respective colleges. In some instances, when required to upload the answers, students deliberately blurred their scripts to make deciphering impossible for the examiners. Exams also became group work, and students skilfully employed messaging services to exchange answers.
Some institutions developed mobile apps for those taking exams, but the smart ones switched their window tabs, hoodwinking auto and other forms of proctoring. To minimise the administrative burden, the duration was reduced to an hour, with objective-type questions.
Research studies have established beyond doubt even those who score 100% in these may not be capable of stringing a few coherent sentences, owing to their lack of descriptive and organisational skills. Eventually, when the results were announced, virtually everyone was declared ‘Passed’, barring a few. Thus, exams became a mockery.
An unforeseen opportunity to innovate was lost.
At the macro-level, exams could have paved way for a localised evaluation process; the stereotypical question paper model could have generated alternative patterns; the one summative exam could have been replaced with multi-modes for accurate assessments; and, at a time when learner-centric curriculum is finding its way in, self-assessment could have been given some space for developing students’ critical awareness to become independent learners.
All is not lost, though. As we experience another wave of the pandemic, genuine attempts must be made to develop multiple evaluation designs for different levels of education — primary, secondary, and tertiary.
The writer is National Secretary, ELTAI ,and Former Professor and Head, Dept. of English, Anna University, Chennai