Is the risk of conducting exams during a pandemic worth it?

Shruti Pandit
Friday, 5 June 2020

The sanctity of a degree-granting institution has never before been questioned by the industry. So, should students be risking their lives to appear for an exam amidst the pandemic?

Students across the world are struggling with the hiatus brought on by the COVID-19 crisis since March 2020. In regular circumstances, March is the month when all educational institutions from K12 to degree and postgraduate programs are in their last leg of closure.

In India, college students especially, are in a preparatory mode by March for the infamous year-end assessments and exams. In fact, some colleges also have an industry placement drive around this time of the year, and final year students of the graduating classes apply to various organisations coming to campus. 

A number of them get job offers after a series of tests and interviews that the industry hiring teams work out for them, now all they have to do is to take a final assessment exam to be on-boarded into their respective organisations. Other students apply for places in further education courses with their newly minted degree qualifications on clearing their final exams. 

This college degree achievement is of immense signal value for students' self-esteem and confidence, and it also acts as a basis for corporates and industry to parse and sort them into suitable jobs and roles within their organisations. Achievement is usually marked by grades, class, distinction, first-class, honours amongst others. This grade or class is used to shortlist candidates for further education and jobs. 

In some cases, the fact that the candidate has passed is enough for the sorting, in other cases, the grade is used for the sorting, and in specialised fields, the scores in particular subjects are taken up to choose the candidate.

In almost all cases, the fact that the student has been awarded a pass certificate along with a subject-wise performance by the university or institution is more than enough for further pathways to work. The industry has, in India, never hired based on the degree or marks alone. Every candidate is assessed for soft skills, experience and practical knowledge for alignment with their prospective job roles. This is usually done through multiple interviews, group discussion sessions and in a lot of cases, further personality and knowledge tests.

However, it is notable that at no stage does the industry question the university system about the assessment methods or marks granted or grade definitions. The fact that the systems of marking and assessing are always different for different institutions is a given. Industry looks at the degree as a signal of the student having followed the programme or completed the course requirements. That is a necessary and sufficient condition for the industry. There are a few reasons for this, the fact that assessments are different in different universities by state and that fact that deemed universities and private universities also have adopted semester credit systems differently are main causes. Degree-granting authority is never questioned by industry and, in almost all cases, a degree achievement is sufficient for the candidate to be considered and accepted into the industry.

A question then arises: are exams essential for final graduation classes in during COVID-19 times? The risk of conducting exams in COVID-19 zones and the uncertainty about the time taken to assess the exam papers, and declaring results, pose greater harm to the student's life as well as their further opportunities.

Given the COVID-19 situation, some higher education authorities are proposing to conduct an open book exam, and others are suggesting using comprehensive earlier year assessments. This will involve looking at the First Year and Second Year, or earlier five-semester performances on record, to grant degrees. All of these options are acceptable to industry, and there is no question of their evaluating these degrees as of lower value in any way. The sanctity of the degree-granting institution can and never will be questioned by industry.

No exam during the COVID-19 time allows an option that reduces risks to students and their families. After all, jaan hai toh jahaan hai!

(Shruti Pandit is an ex-journalist who worked with TOI, Goa. She has trained teams, taught in educational institutions and has helped create a syllabus for courses.)

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