The current pandemic is an opportunity to develop several assessment models for different levels

Examinations are often equated with participating in high stakes competitions. Students burn midnight oil and even sacrifice simple pleasures to achieve the goal of scoring well. In India, exams are also a family affair, with parents accompanying children to coaching classes, keeping them company, making sure they eat well and even taking time off from work. The Indian psyche sees exams as an endorsement of students’ cognitive prowess, an actualization of dreams (often those of parents), and a gateway to landing a “good” job. Examinations have therefore been an essential component of our curriculum system which has been practiced and transmitted religiously.

Fault lines

However, the pandemic has exposed some loopholes. While bad practices such as hiding pieces of paper, torn pages of textbooks and formulas on the palms, and mass copying, exchanging answer sheets, dictation of answers by the overseers themselves, and the last one, being equipped with tiny gadgets to outsource responses and impersonation inside the lobby was stopped, it also wreaked havoc on the system. A wave of announcements called for reduced portions, indefinite postponements, cancellations and automatic promotions.

During exams, questions were sent online and students were tasked with submitting their answers or delivering them personally to their respective colleges. In some cases, when they needed to download the answers, the students deliberately scrambled their scripts to make decryption impossible for the examiners. Examinations also became group work, and students skillfully used messaging services to exchange answers.

Mobile app

Some institutions have developed mobile apps for those taking exams, but the smarter ones have changed their window tabs, tricking the automobile and other forms of surveillance. To minimize the administrative burden, the duration has been reduced to one hour, with objective type questions.

Research studies have no doubt established that even those who score 100% may not be able to string together a few coherent sentences, due to their lack of descriptive and organizational skills. Eventually, when the results were announced, virtually everyone was rated “successful” except a few. So the reviews became a mockery.

Missed opportunity

An unforeseen opportunity to innovate has been lost.

At the macro level, the reviews could have paved the way for a localized assessment process; the stereotypical question paper model could have generated alternative models; the only summative examination could have been replaced by multi-modes for precise evaluations; and, at a time when the learner-centered curriculum finds its way, self-assessment could have been given some leeway to develop students’ critical awareness to become independent learners.

However, all is not lost. As we live in a new wave of pandemic real attempts must be made to develop multiple assessment models for different levels of education – primary, secondary and tertiary.

The writer is National Secretary, ELTAI, and former Professor and Head of the Department of English, Anna University, Chennai