For education, Covid-19 is bringing about a fundamental shift—away from classroom-only teaching to online. And, as it is with all such shifts, there are transition pains that must be dealt with carefully rather than being allowed to blow up and stall change. One such emerging concern is online testing. While Delhi University is still struggling with online examinations—the teachers’ association and the students’ union have both contested online–open-book testing—the Delhi Technological University (DTU) has conducted proctored online examination during the lockdown. Students at DTU were sent multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and had to keep their webcams on for the duration of the exam. While the process may appear to have gone off smoothly, fuelling confidence in the method, The Telegraph reports that around two-thirds of the students appearing in the exam online scored an outstanding grade, compared with less than a fifth the year before. This unusual performance has many questioning if monitoring students in online exams can be done as effectively as in an exam-hall scenario. The university has claimed that MCQs helped high scores; while that may be the case with certain subjects that have objective answers to questions, MCQs may not even be possible for many humanities and social science subjects. Against such a backdrop, there have been calls for junking online tests based on questions over their reliability to be cheat-proof and assess performance accurately.
These reasons, however, shouldn’t force a junking of the online system. In fact, if grade inflation is such a worry, then CBSE exams and many university examinations should have long been stopped. Each year, many students get a perfect score in the CBSE exams. There was a 40% increase in students scoring above 95% in 2019 over the year before. Besides, instances of cheating are also not uncommon for such exams. Instead of discarding the online system, universities would do better to improve online systems by working on the limitations. One way to go about this is to follow the GRE model. Earlier this year, it was announced that people could take GRE and TOEFL at home. GRE engaged the services of an examination start-up called ProctorU to conduct its examinations more securely, with the use of artificial intelligence to monitor candidates. Not only will such a system improve participation, but will also allow students from remote corners of the country to take the exam. Online has been gaining traction. Last month, the government said that over 10 lakh aspirants used its app to appear for NEET and JEE mock tests; for perspective, last year, 15 lakh students appeared for NEET, and 10 lakh appeared for JEE. Examination centres for JEE and NEET are spread across the country, but logistical and infrastructural hurdles prevent students from appearing for these in certain areas. A home-based system will change that. Besides, against the Covid-19 backdrop, online has become a must, and universities will increasingly need to focus on home-based examination solutions.