Mathura Vasave (22), TYBSc student from Nandurbar’s Akkalkuwa town, camped on a hillock in Balaghat with two of her women friends for two weeks – the entire duration of their final-year exams, as that was the only place they could manage to get network on their phones, in order to attempt their online papers.
Just four days ahead of the exam, Vasave had dipped into her family’s savings to purchase a smartphone that cost Rs 7,500, half of which is yet to be paid.
“Exams started on October 12. We couldn’t find (cellphone) range in our village. So, we walked for nearly three hours to the hillock with camping equipment. We built a temporary shelter using tin sheets, cooked our food and went into the jungle to bathe. We were not alone; students from nearby villages had also come to camp at the same hillock,” she said.
It was the first time that Vasave had lived away from her family. She felt a sense of relief when she could return to the comfort of her home.
Online final-year exams have not only required universities in Maharashtra to explore digital solutions, but also pushed students the extra mile, or several miles, as in the case of students in Nandurbar like Vasave.
After encountering several issues on the first day of their online exams that began on October 14, students Vinay Dagor, Sandeep Naravde and Sachin Bomble of Pune University-affiliated Dr BN Purandare Arts College decided to appear for their exams from underneath a tree outside a restaurant opposite the university. “The man who runs the restaurant is a friend. He allowed us to use the WiFi at his restaurant, for which we collectively paid him Rs 500. We usually sit under a tree outside his hotel,” said Dagor.
For Dagor, it was a 30-minute walk to the spot, but Naravde had to hitchhike from Khopoli, which is an hour away. Bomble, who lives in Pimpaloli village, hitched a ride on a passing truck.
Meanwhile, Ram Chandure, an Army personnel posted in Ranchi, obtained special permission to appear for his final-year sociology exams. The 24-year-old had found a spot in the living area of the cantonment space that offered a decent mobile connection.
“I prepared for my exams after finishing duty everyday. While I managed to appear for the exams, several of my friends posted in other areas could not do so due to connectivity issues. Appearing for exams in the middle of duty hours is difficult, but so far, I have managed,” said Chandure, a student of Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University.
Lata More, Principal of Nandurbar’s Surupsing Hirya Naik College of Education, said online exams may have been an alternative to ensure the safety of students from Covid-19, but they aren’t a sustainable concept for students in the state.
“Ninety percent of our students hail from adivasi padas (tribal settlements), where Internet connectivity is not constant. Many of them have borrowed smart phones from friends or relatives to appear for the exams, and that too from open farmlands, hillocks and at times, over trees. We have had to teach them to properly position themselves to abiding by the ‘facial recognition’ rules in the exam software,” she added.
Of the 3,90,090 final-year students of Jalgaon University, 14,474 have opted to appear for offline exams.
Siddharth Ingle, president of the Maharashtra Students Union, said, “Students have faced several difficulties in appearing for online exams and also for attending online lectures. We have appealed to the government to begin physical learning of students from November onwards, adopting a standard operating procedure for health safety.”