Teachers and students of universities across the country are opposing the decision of the central government’s Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to conduct on-line examinations for students at the end of the academic year 2019-2020. Many of the country’s top universities have announced such a decision. Several protests have been held in the past few weeks during the COVID-19 lockdown, with teachers and students demonstrating in different parts of the country, holding banners and placards.
Teachers of Delhi University, under the banner of DUTA (Delhi University Teachers’ Association), are opposing the decision of the University authorities to hold on-line Open Book Examinations (OBE) for terminal year/ semester students. They have pointed out that the decision was taken by the university authorities in a unilateral manner, despite the opposition of the teachers and students, and without discussion in the teachers’ representative bodies such as the Academic or Executive Council. They have repeatedly highlighted to the authorities that such an examination would be a gross injustice to the vast majority of students, coming from different corners of the country and from diverse socio-economic strata, who have been forced to abandon class-room instruction for the past several months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and nation-wide lockdown.
The overwhelming majority of students and their unions, cutting across political affiliations, have expressed great anxiety at the MHRD decision and are vigorously opposed to it. This was amply revealed in a survey-cum-referendum conducted by the DUTA recently, covering nearly 50,000 students of Delhi University, in which more than 85% of the students voted against the on-line OBE. A similar survey carried out by the University of Hyderabad also brought out similar concerns.
In a letter to the HRD Minister written on May 27, the teachers have pointed out the main reasons why the teachers and students are opposed to the MHRD and University authorities’ decision. They have highlighted the fact that only a small percentage of students have been able to access the online teaching / e-resources made available during the lockdown period, due to lack of smartphones and basic internet facilities in many places. Studying on smartphones not only limits comprehension but is also a health hazard, they have pointed out. As a result, 90% of the students feel totally unprepared for the examination.
Nearly 50% of the students who had gone home for the mid-semester break in March, have been caught unprepared by the sudden lockdown. They do not have access to books, class notes or e-resources and cannot arrange for them. A vast majority of students have also complained of inability to concentrate on their studies, given the anxieties caused by loss of livelihood, insecurity and uncertainty for the future and the severe tension in the society surrounding the corona virus infections and deaths. Besides, many students have faced difficulties coping with malfunctioning smartphones and laptops, the inability to easily navigate new apps and the lack of quality e-resources in Hindi and other Indian languages.
Pointing out that the on-line OBE (a standard-format examination for all students) discriminates against the majority of students who lack access to books, notes and on-line resources, as well as against students with special needs, the letter calls on the government to immediately withdraw its decision in this regard. The teachers’ associations have stated that they will continue to agitate on this issue till the demand of the teachers and students is met.