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Issue No.: 577 | July 2015

Examination Reforms at the Bachelor’s Level

R. W. Desai
The way out, I suggest, is to create a dual proviso: a ‘B.A. by examination’ and a ‘B.A. examination free’… The question that needs to be addressed is that of the market value of the ‘B.A. examination free’ degree.

It is a sad reality that, in general, the university/college examination system throughout the country has failed on account of rampant cheating. The shocking scenes shown recently on TV of students being brazenly given outside help while writing their answers, despite the presence of invigilators, was an exposure of the farce that these examinations have become. For the conscientious students the scenario is repulsive, filling their minds with cynicism and disgust. The employment of stricter measures has, over the decades, proved futile and, even if at some stage is successful, goes against the spirit of true education and so would be self-defeating. Faced as we are with an ever increasing demand for mass education in numerous academic disciplines, and with a multiplicity of competitive hurdles that need to be negotiated for securing jobs, today’s students are prepared to go to any lengths to reach the coveted goal of employment. As is well known, these hurdles are formidable. The UPSC tests, TOEFL, CAT, SAT, CLAT, NET, CTET, and IIT entrance and qualifying tests, to name just a few, along with the rigorous interviews and psychological tests which prospective candidates are required to face in order to be selected for admission to institutes of higher education or for employment in government or in the corporate sector, are effective filters for the elimination of unsuitable applicants.

The question we must then ask is whether it is at all desirable, or even necessary, for universities to exercise a police-like restraint against potential cheating. If the true concept of a university is its ability to provide knowledge, wisdom, and culture to those who desire these virtues, then the university is no place for the exercise of a danda discipline. Nor should this be the role that teachers – many of whom are distinguished scholars – thus exposing them to insult, hostility, and even violence as in several recent cases. Rather, this role should be filled by the organizations that conduct the competitive tests mentioned above, since the bureaucrats heading these organizations have the resources and authority to enforce strict disciplinary controls by commissioning police and army personnel to ensure fair play.

Accordingly, it seems to me that we need to go back to the earlier concept of true education and strive to provide the best values for those students who are passionate in their quest for knowledge. Since the bachelor’s degree is the minimum qualification for eligibility to appear for any competitive test, it is unfortunate but unavoidable that universities have hitherto made degrees in the humanities and commerce available for both serious and not-so-serious students, both groups having to take the same examination, thus muddying the waters. The way out, I suggest, is to create a dual proviso: a ‘B.A. by examination’ and a ‘B.A. examination free’. To clarify: the ‘B.A. by examination’ will follow the usual pattern of our present system, but the ‘B.A. examination free’ will cater to students who are interested in obtaining a degree without going through the rigour of sitting for an examination.

The degree ‘B.A. examination free’, will have only one requirement which will be strictly enforced: the students who opt for this degree will have to show an 80% attendance in all lecture classes. To many of us this may seem an absurd concession, but let us pause for a moment and consider the consequences. The temptation to cheat will disappear, and if any student who has opted for the ‘B.A. by examination’, is caught cheating, s/he will immediately be transferred to the ‘B.A. examination free’ category. The question that needs to be addressed is that of the market value of the ‘B.A. examination free’ degree. As far as I know, there is no precedent for the award of such a degree, thus making its introduction an innovative, even revolutionary, step. My answer to the above question will be, therefore, speculative.

If the students in the ‘B.A. examination free’ category maintain an 80% attendance in classes, without going to sleep, they will certainly be better equipped intellectually to face life than they were three years ago when they passed out from school. Further, should they decide to sit for the competitive tests, they could take advantage of the coaching institutes available in any part of the country, an option open to the students of both categories, thus providing them with a common playing field. However, I think it is logical to surmise that not too many students from the ‘B.A. examination free’ category will have the inclination or the stamina to take these tests, preferring to choose the prospect of quick employment in lower paying, less demanding, jobs; or the choice of joining the family business; or of contracting a lucrative marriage.

It is ironic that in contrast to the holding of university/college examinations during which unfair means are widely prevalent, in the umpiring of all competitive sports events the strictest and uncompromising standards of judgment are enforced leading to the disqualification of violators, often for life. But society, evidently, has failed to realize that misdemeanour during examinations is a far more serious and insidious defalcation, affecting more adversely our young students by destroying their moral fibre, than any breach of rules that occurs in the field of sports. Since in the academic sphere our universities have over the past 60 years failed to stem the rot which has become endemic, infecting the country’s youth during its most formative and impressionable years from 18 to 21, it is high time we acknowledge our helplessness and look for an alternative solution to the problem.

If our public institutions in which these young men and women will seek employment in later years are to be protected from the likelihood of ensuing contamination in their functioning, it is imperative that a remedy be found without delay. We ought to bear in mind that during the colonial period of our history the B.A. degree was considered a sufficient qualification for employment in almost any administrative or corporate opening. Today the degree by itself has no significance except for its limited status value in social circles, or for its being the gateway for candidates to sit for entrance tests leading to specialization in any one particular area of knowledge, without which employment in a high income bracket is impossible.

To conclude, the bifurcation of the study programme into two channels towards the acquiring of the B.A. degree that this paper has recommended will be fair to all aspirants, debarring none from realizing their dream of success while, at the same time, removing the temptation to cheat and, simultaneously, eliminating the possibility of sub-standard candidates securing employment in positions of responsibility in both public and private sectors. Critical responses to this proposal are welcome, for it is abundantly clear that the present policy of conducting examinations to which all students, serious and non-serious, are subjected has not worked, thus necessitating discussion among educationists, followed by the implementation of a viable solution.

Dr. R. W. DESAI, is retired professor of English, Delhi University. 



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