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DU's Open Book - Exam or Anxiety?

Delhi University’s decision to conduct mandatory online open book examinations (OBE) for final year undergraduate and postgraduate students has commenced a confusing and stressful ride for the students. Students of DU are spread across the country and are from various socio-economic backgrounds. Ever since the university’s decision came, professors and students have collectively protested against it stating various reasons as to why it will be an unfair procedure. 

DUTA (Delhi University Teachers’ Association) and students called out the unjust character of online exams as students without proper online resources, books and notes will face unfair disadvantage as well as promote malpractice. A lot of students live in areas that have low internet connectivity or frequent power cuts. Especially with high corona cases, students are already living with the fear of it. Due to the lockdown, everyone had been forced to stay inside for a long period of time. Students are already in a perturbed state due to personal factors like family, non-conducive environment, etc. They claim that DU is only adding to their woes. 

To understand the mental state of final year students during such an uncertain time, I reached out to some students who shared how DU’s online examinations has affected them emotionally. The previous semester was cut short when university shut down and cancelled classes in March owing to the increasing number of cases of Covid. Since it was mid semester break, many left for their hometowns across the country and some left their study materials back in Delhi as this lockdown was unprecedented. When asked if online method of examination is feasible for them and if study resources are available, they said :

Akshita: Due to the floods in Assam and continuous rain, there have been some power cuts in my neighborhood. Besides, this is not a situation and an environment which I find fit to sit for exams. I didn't have my materials with me earlier but I somehow managed to get them parcelled. This is to say that I had the privilege of procuring my books and notes but lots of students do not have the same facility as me.

N: Internet connectivity and the electricity connection is extremely unstable here. I have 1 reader out of 6 exams that I wish to appear for. The softcopies too are inaccessible and cannot be accessed for long due to long power cuts. 

Faryaal: Although the university claims the online classes happen, I could not attend any because my internet barely ever let me access zoom classes, it is frustrating; when a significant number of people cannot access or avail these classes, they cannot be seriously considered to classes on the basis of which an exam should be taken, half of our syllabus wasn't taught to us. All I have to show for these classes are some forward mails of readings on professors ends.

Shilpi: To me, yes. But I know friends and acquaintances who do not. It brings out the discrimination, for exams seem to be for the privileged. I have my textbooks and email notes sent by teachers (which only a few dedicated teachers sent). Other than that, it is Google and Jstor. But 2/3rd of the syllabus is left incomplete. We did not have any regular classes. It was mainly a few recordings here and there (by a few teachers only) and apparent additional online resources. 

A: I have a stable internet. However, studying for the exams has been difficult as I do not have all my coursebooks.

DU conducted mock exams on July 4-8th so as to familiarise the students with the new exam mode and pattern. But after several complaints from students, the mock exam had visibly failed. Students faced multiple errors and glitches as they tried to register for the mock exam, access question papers and upload answer sheets. 

Shilpi: It is tedious to write download question paper, write answers with pen-paper, scan each answer separately and then upload them on the website, individually. And you never know when a technical error occurs.

Faryaal: The portal is very ineffective: I found myself being unable to log in, unable to upload in mock tests, in which the strength of the students for each test was conveniently slimmed down due to availability of different slots. 

N: I gave the mock exam twice after which I gave up. Each time the papers were from the wrong course and the wrong year which made the mock exams entirely futile given the fact that the university has changed the entire pattern of exams less than a month prior to it. The website refused to accept any files that I tried to upload regardless of the file size and when refreshed it unexpectedly crashed. 

Sukriti: A lot of my other classmates experienced technical glitches, despite having all the infra for it. there were glitches particularly during the slots where everyone decided to log in together to test if the portal could take their large numbers. The mock exams just proved to increase anxieties around the whole new mode of examinations. 

When the world is fighting a pandemic and everyone is living with fear and anxiety about the huge uncertainty surrounding it, DU has been busy continuously changing their decisions about conduction of exams. They postponed the exams twice and seem to be oblivious to the effect it may have on graduating students who have their future at stake.

A: I was initially intending to go to the UK but because the exams (and, consequently, the results) are delayed I am no longer considering the same. It's been very stressful and anxiety provoking as OBE isn't something we are prepared for and the Mocks were very messy and demotivating. Further, the constant postponement takes a serious toll on my mental well-being as DU has consistently kept us in limbo till the last possible moment.

N: For me personally, this whole disaster of the OBE has caused grave mental stress while throwing my future opportunities (Fellowships and Internships) for a toss by being unbelievably indecisive and insensitive about evaluations which now coincides with my commencement dates. I dropped out of certificate programmes due to previously stated dates which the university changes whenever it deems fit--less than 3 days prior to the actual exams. I now hesitate when it comes to applying to any new opportunity for the sole reason that I really don't know if the University would flip its decision.

Shilpi: Now with the OBE in August, perhaps my entrance and OBE might collide. This lockdown and ample of time could have been used productively had the exams been over by July 10. With the postponement, we are neither able to take up long term projects or internships.

Faryaal: I wanted to take a gap year, and work with independent presses. Now we have been told that our result might not come before November, so this unnecessary extension of our association with DU has eaten up half of my gap year. I can't get a job if I don't have the degree. But, the university has alienated the students and their prospects, the interests that they should be bound to protect.

Sukriti: This repeated postponement has been taxing and very demoralising, a lot of time has been wasted figuring out logistics and it has been a very bad experience.

When a university like DU turns deaf towards students’ plea and ignores the panic mails that DUTA received during mock exams, prioritises outcome over process and ignores the ground reality. Students feel apathy from their university, a place that should put the needs and mental health of students first and foremost before any experiments. Students shared the increased anxiety and stress they had been feeling due to this, along with various other contributing factors owing to the pandemic and lockdown. 

A: I've already had a lot of anxiety due to other factors, and DU has added to it further. I have had to completely change my education plans and I still don't know when/if I'll get my degree.

Shilpi: I feel disturbed because there is no certainty as to what will happen next, and I am unable to plan anything until OBE is done with.

Akshita: With the increasing numbers of Covid cases in my neighborhood, the anxiety of not knowing what will come next and preparing for exams have been very pressing and disturbing. At this point, I do not care about these exams and my degree, because this DU fiasco has only made me realise the stupidity and pointlessness of this education system.

N: While the world is already at the brink of extremely uncertain times with jobs drying up, an incomplete placement season, an uncertain graduation date, changes in almost all facets of life hit by the pandemic while existing in the constant fear of getting the virus, the absolute apathy of the university to continue with exams for the sake of having "exams"-- since that's what my education has now been reduced to-- is absolutely sickening. I don't think I've felt this alienated from my University or the education system in the past where regardless of the number of grievance mails, petitions, polls, surveys, protests in favour of scrapping OBE, it all falls to deaf ears. It's been disheartening to see that an entire body of more than 2.5 lakh students' voices don't matter. Our lives are at stake. 

At every stage, DU’s decision to conduct examinations has proved to aggravate stress and anxiety for students as they face uncertainty and confusion. It becomes a moral question as this new mode of examinations puts a lot of students at stake due to lack of privileges, and escalates mental health issues.

By - Athira Raj

Graphic by - Niharika Suri

#educationinpandemic #obe #studentsinlockdown

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