The Joint Forum for Movement on Education (JFME) has launched a petition to draw attention to the crisis engulfing the education sector amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. As the first coronavirus cases trickled in, India shut its schools and moved the education system online. However, this just highlighted the digital divide and the lack of infrastructure required for education to be accessed by all.
In this context, the JFME, which consists of constituent organizations like the All India Federation of University and College Teachers’ Organization and the All India Forum for Right to Education, among others, launched a petition addressing PM Modi. The petition stated, “The recently released ‘UGC Revised Guidelines on Examinations and Academic Calendar for the Universities in view of Covid-19 Pandemic’, propose illogical and un-academic solutions for evaluating and granting degrees to students.”
The UGC Revised Guidelines state “The universities are required to complete the Terminal Semester / Final Year Examinations (2019-20) by the end of September 2020 in offline (pen & paper)/ online/ blended (online + offline) mode following the prescribed protocols/ guidelines related to COVID-19 pandemic.”
Erroneous supposition by UGC
The petition states that the guidelines erroneously suppose two things. First – that the decision is taken on the premise of upholding the “principles of health, safety, fair and equal opportunity for students” and increasing their academic credibility and ensuring their future career progress. Second – that online exams could replicate assessments done through examinations in pen and paper mode and these are the best available alternatives in the current context.
Ground realities overlooked, state governments not consulted
The petition has therefore cited reasons on why UGC should withdraw these guidelines. Firstly, the diverse ground realities prevailing in different parts of the country and the concerns expressed by different State Governments and Universities are not acknowledged in the said Guidelines. It states, “The situation in many parts of the country is extremely critical. Recent floods in some parts of the country and consequent problems of electricity, etc. will also make it difficult for the conduct of examinations.”
The petition states that the UGC guidelines “ignore the fact that Education is on the concurrent list and State Governments ought to have a say in what is to be implemented. Not letting State Governments and Universities choose the method most appropriate to their conditions through their respective statutory processes and consultation with all stakeholders, therefore, amounts to a serious erosion of academic standards and institutional autonomy.”
It adds, “The one-size-fits-all approach cannot work because of the sheer diversity in the circumstances of different universities – their sizes and geographical spreads, socio-economic status of their students, whether they are unitary universities or have affiliated institutions, the relative importance of undergraduate and post-graduate courses, their disciplinary mix, their mediums of instruction and examination, etc.”
Safety of students compromised
The petition also states that given the increase of cases throughout the country, it would be near impossible for regular examinations to be conducted by September without the safety of the students being compromised. Given this situation, most would Universities would opt for online / blended mode of examination which cannot match up to the credibility of regular examinations.
It also states, “The online / blended mode is discriminatory towards those without access to books, notes and online resources. Lack of stable internet connectivity, especially in the remote parts of the country, will put a large section of students at a huge disadvantage. Differently-abled students and those from the underprivileged sections of society will be the worst hit.”
Another point that the petition makes is that the online / blended mode of examination will not monitor the use of unfair means and will penalise those who are honest and promote malpractice. Given these problems, the JFME has suggested that other forms of “credible and meaningful assessment like internal / continuous assessment and / or average scores of past semesters would meet the criteria of fairness and integrity better.”
The JFME also strives to clarify the misconception that “cancellation of “final exams” in view of the pandemic would amount to not evaluating students or giving them an undervalued degree.” It says, “Intermediate students are to be evaluated and promoted based on the average of past semesters and the internal assessment of the current semester. Hence, there is no reason that such an alternative cannot be adopted for final semester / year students.”
Hence, given the current scenario in the country, the JFME has sought immediate intervention from the PM for the “immediate intervention for the withdrawal of the UGC Guidelines, the immediate cancellation of the mandatory requirement of examinations for final year students and for alternative forms to be adopted for grant of degrees.”
As many as 31 students in 13 states have now filed a plea in the Supreme seeking the cancellation of final year exams and that results be declared on past performance and internal assessment. The Court is set to hear the plea in the next two days.