Central Hall – Educating Don Quixote!

Mumbai: The current response to battling Coronavirus and complicating the issue of final year examinations for degree and post-graduate courses is akin to educating Don Quixote to behave rationally. After having begun to unlock the economy, the spread of the Coronavirus is forcing the government to rethink on enforcing lockdown again in some areas. The problem is confounded if the government stops communicating with the masses or has poor communicating skills.

The response of the government in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic at best has been knee-jerk and has swayed by the public demands to allow travel when it should have been allowed initially rather than after second or third lockdown. We are committing the same mistakes that China did in lifting the lockdown in the industries, bringing back the virus to the factory shop-floor and helping it spread further.

Our response has not been mature enough and has at best been adhoc and influenced by public pressure. Most of the times it has been political rather than being practical.

Take for example the suggestion of doing away with final year degree and post-graduate degree courses and instead passing the students based on aggregate marks of previous semesters. The tragically the issue has been politicized endangering the future career options of the student community.

Our restricted mindset and thinking has evolved only in believing or equating final year degree and post-graduate exams to just B.A., B.Sc and B.Com. What has been conveniently forgotten that academic evaluation in some academic courses in B.Sc and B.Com is based on practical evaluation and oral jury.

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The same holds true for professional courses like medicine, engineering, law, architecture, design, agriculture and others. There are professional courses wherein the final year student is required to in the last semester undertake six months internship, undergo evaluation of his or her practical work and knowledge in an oral jury.

The patient lying on the operation table would dread the prospect at being treated by a doctor who tells him that he has a degree without exams, or the engineer who tells that he has only the bookish knowledge of how to construct a bridge without having practical knowledge of it gained through internships.

In the case of Law, even after having the degree, one has to appear for the exam to get the Sanad (authorization to practice), same holds true with medicine, engineering, agriculture, veterinary doctors, nursing, architecture students.

Besides this our decisions have not factored the fact that many students opt for further higher studies abroad and in circumstances as these it is not clear what will be the response of foreign universities and colleges to our idea of degrees without exams. Will they be ready to accept degrees, most of which they treat with circumspection.

Most of the students opting for further education abroad appear for entrance exams, make advance preparations in terms of securing educational loans etc before the academic year starts. The current political stalemate is nightmarish for both the students and their parents.

The pandemic has exposed the hollowness of our online education and evaluation. It has been nine years since 2011 that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had introduced “Virtual Classrooms” in its 480 BMC schools. Many schools, colleges and coaching classes had given pre-loaded Tabs to their students. Now you have online learning Apps like BYJU’s and others. Despite the smart phones and tabs, there is this new demand for footing the data pack charges and recharges.

There ought to have been clear distinction between professional and non-professional courses, instead of treating all as one. Second myth that is being made excuse of is the lack of or absence of online evaluation facilities. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has its iON Digital Zone facility in Powai which is used by IIT and many other recruiting colleges and firms for online evaluation.

Besides these there are several consultancies which offer services in online evaluation and coaching. This year most of the professional colleges cancelled their entrance exams and instead opted for online evaluation to select candidates. It is an altogether different matter and these educational institutions have no qualms in demanding that the government grant them permission to hike their academic fees.

Even as the government has begun the process of unlocking the economy and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) declaring that semesters in colleges will commence as scheduled. There is no road map and standard operating procedures (SOPs) laid down to ensure utmost care is taken to ensure that lives are not put at risk after unlocking the education sector.

Addressing core issues like health care, education, disaster management, research and development have never been on our priority list. That is why when it comes to critical areas like developing hardware capabilities in Semiconductors, we are languishing at the bottom of the pile. Because even experts in disaster management are talking politics and politicians with hubris care two hoots about the ordeal that the students and people are going through on account of their mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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