With repeated postponements, it remains uncertain when Delhi University (DU) will finally conduct the controversial online open book examinations (OBE) for its roughly 2.25 lakh final year/semester students of both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Amid widespread opposition from all stakeholders of the university, and reprimands from the Delhi High Court, the university is readying itself to carry out the exercise.
What is OBE and when was it first proposed?
The idea of holding open book exams (OBE) for final year/semester students of DU was first floated by Dean Examinations Vinay Gupta in a notification dated May 14. At that stage, however, the decision was tentative as the university said it would hold OBE “in case the situation does not appear to be normal in view of COVID-19”. In a letter to Deans of all departments on the same day, Gupta explained that as part of OBE, students would be able to refer to books, notes and other study materials to answer questions, sitting at home.
When was it finalised as the mode of examination and what did the guidelines say?
The fact that DU had decided to go ahead with holding OBE was confirmed two weeks later, when the university released detailed guidelines on the conduct of OBE examinations on May 30. Gupta said “examinations cannot be conducted in the conventional mode as per the existing government norms of maintaining social distancing and safety and health of the students”. A tentative datesheet was put out stating the exams would begin on July 1. According to the guidelines, students would get a total of three hours – two hours for downloading and appearing for the paper and an additional one hour for uploading the answer sheets. The guidelines also stated that for those lacking internet and infrastructural facilities, DU would engage the Common Service Centres (CSC) under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. The university also said that students who aren’t able to give the exams remotely will be allowed to sit for physical exams “as and when the present situation improves”.
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Where was the decision to hold OBE taken? Were statutory bodies involved?
The initial notification of May 14 did not mention where or when such a decision was taken. In the May 30 notification, Gupta said the “matter was intensively deliberated” in Task Force constituted by DU in view of COVID-19 and the Working Group on Examinations. The matter was, however, not brought to the statutory bodies of DU – the Academic Council (AC) and the Executive Council (EC), where such decisions are mandatorily taken. A senior official confirmed to The Indian Express on May 30 that the decision was “final” and would not go to the AC and EC for ratification.
Why is there opposition to OBE and what is the alternative?
All student and teachers organisations, including the Left, Right and Centre, as well as the DU Student’s Union (DUSU) and DU Teachers’ Association (DUTA) have opposed the OBE. The only exception to this is the contradiction between the DUSU – which has demanded that students be marked on assessed on assignments, and the BJP-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, to which most DUSU office-bearers belong, which welcomed the latest University Grants Commission’s (UGC) decision not to scrap exams. All the stakeholders have been unanimous in asking that the OBE be scrapped and instead alternate modes of evaluation be adopted such as taking average scores of the previous semester/years marks, and/or evaluating based on internal assessment. Congress’ National Students’ Union of India has demanded mass promotion for all students.
The opposition to OBE is on two grounds. First is procedural. Opponents argue that the decision was not taken in statutory bodies and is, therefore, illegal. Second is the nature of the exam itself. Students and teachers have said the exams would be “discriminatory” towards those who don’t have access to internet and infrastructure viz. the economically poor, and to PWD students, especially the visually challenged. DUTA’s survey conducted on 50,000 students showed that 85 per cent were not in a position to appear for the OBE.
They have also pointed out that holding exams, when the teaching-learning process was not properly conducted due to COVID-19, would defeat the purpose of evaluation. There are also doubts raised by teachers about the potential for cheating in these exams. Apprehensions were also raised about DU’s capacity to conduct exams online, given that it has faced repeated server crashes during admissions in previous years. Opposition grew louder after the mock OBE exams conducted from July 4-8 saw hundreds complaining of difficulty in registering, allotment of incorrect question papers, insufficient time given to PWD students and inability to upload answer sheets.
What is the UGC’s stand on exams?
On April 29, UGC’s indicative calendar had prescribed that universities conduct their final-year or end-semester examination from July 1 to July 15 and declare their results by the end of the month. However, on June 24, the MHRD asked the UGC to reconsider it due to rising COVID-19 cases. Based on the recommendations by a Committee, on July 6, the UGC decided against recommending cancellation of exams, instead advising universities to hold exams by end of September. DU’s second postponement came after the UGC notification.
Did the matter go to the Delhi High Court? What has the HC said?
Four separate petitions against the OBE were filed by final year students, which have now been clubbed together by the HC. The University has been reprimanded DU for repeatedly postponing the exams – first from July 1 to July 10, and now to after August 15 – despite claiming from the beginning that it was prepared to hold exams. A bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Subramonium Prasad Thursday said the postponement was “nerve wracking” and that students’ careers were at stake. Earlier the same bench had considered contempt proceedings against DU for failing to inform the court about postponement of exams from July 1 to July 10. The bench has directed DU to file an affidavit by July 13, detailing the schedule of final-year undergraduate exams and the next hearing will be held on July 14.
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