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Monday, February 19, 2007


India has one of the largest higher education systems in the world. Although, to anyone who’s familiar with the frenzied influx of students that Delhi receives every ‘academic’ year, the same would probably read as ‘Delhi has one of…’ And why not, with the number of educational opportunities as also the number of institutional possibilities, this city truly is an education hub. But weaknesses in this system still do exist. The question is whether these weaknesses are to be criticised and left alone, or are they to be taken into account and improved upon?
Under-marking, denying access to answer scripts, evaluation and re-evaluation are some of the most common problems ailing higher education today. These are further aggravated in case of higher student numbers, thus bringing Delhi University (DU) to the forefront.


Many DU students interviewed did not even have any idea about how and on what basis their answer scripts were evaluated in the first place. Whereas students pursuing political science and history complained that teachers emphasised more on the size of the answer rather than the quality of the content. This leads to students not adopting a technical style of writing and not studying as would be required for competitive exams. The same was also said regarding inconsistent standards followed for marking practicals, as marks are instead given keeping in mind the ‘brand name’ of the college.
Such claims by students, although may not always be well founded, are evidence enough of the hindrance posed by the opacity of the entire system. “DU should allow accessing answer scripts so that students not only know their mistakes but do not repeat them either,” opined Preeti Malik, a final year student at the Faculty of Law. She added that after the enforcement of Right to Information (RTI) a number of students filed an application with the registrar, who is also the chief information officer, requesting access to their answer scripts — but to no avail.
In contrast universities such as Bangalore University, Anna University, and Periyar University allow students to obtain photocopies of their answer scripts. Even the Kolkata State Information Commission has ordered, dated January 15, Calcutta University that any candidate can demand their answer script. DU’s ordinance however provides only for reevaluation of answer scripts for all courses and re-checking in case of professional courses. The exception here is that of St Stephen’s College, which allows photocopying of answer scripts at Rs 2 per page, but that too for just the mid-term examination.


Next in line is the question of whether or not authorities take any pains to display the exam results in an acceptable span of time. DU students are expected to look out for results anywhere between a period 45-60 days. Rahul Sharma, a BCom (Hons) student of School of Open Learning, applied for the revaluation of the answer scripts in three papers which he failed in September, 2006. Sharma however, is still awaiting the results.
So who is responsible for the delay, the babus or the teachers? “The teachers usually finish the evaluation task assigned to them on time even though the amount of remuneration is not commensurate with the amount of effort that goes in. DU has made it mandatory for all teachers to evaluate answer scripts but still there are many who don’t participate in the exercise,” said a teacher of St Stephen’s College. And thus even in case of re-evaluation “answer scripts often continue to be provided in instalments to the same teacher,” she added. On an average a teacher of the Examination Committee has to check about 200 copies. A lecturer of University School of Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (GGSIPU) stated, “less than required teachers are recruited for checking the answer scripts, which in turn burdens the teachers as they can only devote 20-22 minutes to one sheet.” The stipulated number of scripts along with the lack of ample time once again favours inefficiency.


The exam results and their respective procedures are no doubt a little faulty, but what then of the exams themselves? Evaluation systems are meant for assessing the development of a student.Yet the kinds of question papers being set seem to do quite the opposite. Students even opine that the questions are meant not to test what a student knows but to test instead what he doesn’t. In fact a first year student of Law Faculty, DU, felt that “studying the previous years question papers is enough to land students amongst the top.” Question papers today are unfortunately testing only the ability to cram, rather than to test their analytical ability and interpretation instincts. Examiners must keep in mind that it cannot be tested what a student has learnt in the past one year, or even six months, on the basis of a three-hour cramfest. Evaluation should include an overall assessment of the students vis-à-vis a written test and a personality evaluation. And for courses such as BTech and MBBS priority should be given to practical rather than theoretical tests.


One problem that exists even before all the aforesaid hassles is that final exams often carry a 100% weightage. Doesn’t the lack of internal evaluation in itself prove troublesome? “It definitely does away with any kind of biases, but one must learn to move beyond objectivity,’ says Simi Malhotra, who has taught at DU and is currently teaching at the department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia University. Jamia has internal assessment in some courses. In the courses where internal assessment is followed the students are happy with the way things are managed.

“The idea of continuous and comprehensive evaluation is fulfilled through the system we have at the faculty of Education,”says Farah Naeem, an MEd student. She accepted that this system does let biases creep in but argued “They do not occur that often and instead we don’t feel burdened at the time of the final exam.”
How many sheets do they get for correction? “In case of compulsory subjects like general English we do get many copies, but since these papers are totally objective there is no such burden,” commented Malhotra. “ Although one must understand that the paradigm for all universities is different. Delhi University has more than 80 colleges affiliated to it, so the number of copies there can be quite daunting.
Things are different at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jamia. If these universities too had such a large number of students, the pressure on the examiners would probably have been the same,” she reasoned.


There is quite a difference in the entire approach to evaluation at JNU as compared to other universities, especially in regard to the very subjective modes of assessment followed. Saugata Bhaduri, who teaches at the Centre for English, vouches for the flexibility both in the syllabus and the criteria of evaluation. “The teachers decide what to teach, and they check the papers they have taught”. And to lay doubts of unfairness to rest the university has in place a grievance cell for any such complaints. In addition, courses are optional and students can always leave a certain course and take an extra one in the next semester in case they can’t adjust.
“With a system of internal assessment in place we had our noses to the grindstone throughout the year,” joked Julie K Raju, a former student. “But things are done very democratically here,” stated Raju. Sadiqur Rehman, who has taught at the university, agreed on the same adding, “Since the answer sheets are given back to the students, each can see for himself how the others have performed.”
Perhaps all three universities could weigh the pros and cons of their respective systems and learn from each other. But whatever the eventuality may be, most teachers at present agree that in order to function efficiently, DU must decentralise. Till then, the exam blues can perhaps only be criticised.
Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2007 Feb 12; Section:Education Times; Page Number 43

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