August 17, 2021
The landscape of higher education in India is evolving. We have entered a world that is becoming digitalised. The higher educational system is plagued with issues and concerns that need to be addressed. The new Education Policy 2020 has addressed some issues. One of the key reforms is the merging of streams into multidisciplinary subjects wherein the areas like Science, Commerce, Arts, and Vocational Education etc. are merged into multidisciplinary areas giving students the flexibility to pick the subjects/ disciplines that interest them without any compartmentalisation. The focus has therefore shifted to skill development, social learning projects, soft skills development and hands on practical learning. It is therefore clear that learning landscape has evolved and the need of the hour is to prepare students for life. Students in Universities and Institutes of Higher Learning have a big challenge in learning without laboratories and field work practice in the current pandemic situation. The challenges of learning is the segregation of social life on the campus. Students will find the challenges of re-entering social life as and when the pandemic abates. The parents and teachers need to be pro-active and positive. It will have a big impact on students. Facing the challenges is the need of the hour rather than facing the raging nightmare of the gloom we see around us. If parents and teachers show that they are resilient, our youth will learn to be that way. This condition needs to be built when we are talking about the evaluation system also.
However, in our system, the culture of ranking is dominating. Everything and everyone is ranked. The Universities are ranked; the academicians are ranked and certainly the students are ranked. The question we need to ask is: are ranking and grading the real yardsticks of excellence? Can the old pattern of evaluation to grade students under the new reality of the situation sustainable. The criteria of restricting copying and using “unfair” means, which the pandemic would restrict if the online mode is adopted. Therefore the Universities that use the traditional system of evaluation has to find suitable tools to restrict “unfair” means in conducting the examination and also develop an evaluation of the students that is anonymous and hence not subjected to bias by the evaluator. The system as it stands today, evaluates the rote memory of the students and this calls for restricting the use of “unfair” means which becomes the essence of the education system. The education system stands on three pillars – studying the syllabus, passing the examination and finishing your education. The obvious contention here is that we change the system of evaluation.
Building an innovative examination system to test Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes rather than rote memory: Given the present day situation and the likelihood of more COVID 19 waves, it is necessary and imperative that the academic community with various stakeholders embrace a pragmatic approach that will not only be useful in the present situation that we are in but also help us redefine the evaluation process. This calls for having an imaginative thinking and exploring new methods of evaluation, that empower students to acquire knowledge and improve student learning outcomes. The pandemic has changed the learning landscape and as a community of academicians we must keep in mind our goals of preparing students for life. The best place to start this is from the class room – both offline as well as on line. The disruptions caused by COVID 19 does call for innovative and holistic methods of assessment. When constructive strategies of evaluation is not forthcoming, there will be a clamour for cancellation of examinations. The UGC rules clearly state that without examinations, there can be no grant of degrees. Universities and Institutions are now finding themselves in a catch nine situation and time is running out. The need of the hour is that a new examination and evaluation system should be crafted that is fair and instils confidence in the students and the society.
What needs to be evaluated?
Testing of knowledge and skills gained is the essence of an education system. Policy makers and educationists must tackle the challenges faced by Universities due to the pandemic in such a way that a reasonably good system of evaluation could be built into the system.
What are the Alternatives?
It is imperative that a new pattern of evaluation needs to be put in place. There must be a multipronged strategy of evaluation that should be crafted. This evaluation pattern must be assessed from the educational objectives of understanding, problem-solving, reflective thinking, skill development and application of knowledge. After all, education needs to train students for the world outside the Universities and Institutes of higher learning which is far more challenging than the campus.
One method of evaluation could be testing the real learning and application skills of the students by providing students with questions and testing their real learning rather than rote learning by providing source material to analyse and apply to real life situation. It would be an open book examination that is well accepted. The answer script could be subjected to plagiarism software like thesis and articles / research papers that may not be difficult. It is necessary to successfully complete examinations using constructive strategies otherwise it will result in pilling up of examinations, as classes are conducted online, semesters are completed and off line examinations are remaining. Students may be burdened to take up continuous semester examination that might tax the already stressed students. However it must be borne in mind that conducting the examination online needs capital investments and suitable tools and techniques so that the system is efficient, fair and error free.
Universities here need to invest in new technology for the future that requires financial commitment and a will to commit itself to move along with times. In order to build into modern technology, there must be explicit budgetary allocations for building an efficient teaching and evaluation system. If there is apathy on the part of the University and its policy makers it could lead into shutting down of academic activities in the time to come as also in the near future. It is therefore incumbent upon the Society, the State, the Universities and Institute of Higher Learning to provide for managing the COVID crisis before the system of higher education itself becomes a crisis.
The nation as a whole must realise that there is need for imaginative thinking and exploring the way to comprehensively teach, fairly evaluate the student learning. What is the need of the hour is to redefine the idea of evaluation within the framework of an ever-changing social perspectives and needs that the pandemic has brought about. The students of today are the professionals of tomorrow and they really deserve to be the yardstick of excellence in today’s educational setup.