The Maha Vikas Aghadi government faces a huge challenge in conducting final-year exams for about 9 lakh students from 13 non-agricultural universities by September 30 or thereafter, after seeking postponement from the University Grants Commission. Minister of Higher and Technical Education Uday Samant and his deputy Prajakt Tanpure will hold a marathon meeting with the 13 vice chancellors of these universities either on Saturday or Sunday and also interact with the various stakeholders, including students and parents, before chalking out a final strategy.
Both Samant and Tanpure said the universities would have to conduct final-year exams, as per the Supreme Court order. Tanpure told The Free Press Journal, "The government will take a final decision after our interaction with the VCs and students.’’
Meanwhile, students should keep in mind that there is no going back but now, we have to plan ahead and work towards how and when to conduct final-year exams, said Samant on Friday. When asked whether students should begin preparation and how long would they have to do so, he assured that sufficient time would be given to the students as the department will analyse the possibility of online exams in urban centres, offline, open book or a combination of online and offline exams.
Samant said, "Students need to understand, the SC has given a verdict stating final-year exams should be conducted. Both students and the state government had the opportunity to raise their concerns and present the matter highlighting the Covid-19 situation in the apex court. Now instead of wasting time playing blame games, we should focus on how and when to conduct exams in a safe environment. We assure that students' health will not be affected."
Considering the high number of coronavirus cases in Maharashtra, exams might be pushed farther than September 30. Samant said, "Students will be given sufficient time to prepare for the exams. After discussions with the state disaster management authority, we will consult the UGC for a postponement if it is not possible to conduct exams before September 30."
According to a department official, the government is also looking at some non-traditional ways of evaluation, including exams on the phone. In rural areas however, connectivity and transportation will be an issue, which the government hopes to address by allowing students to appear for exams in the nearby schools or colleges.
However, the department official and educationists cited administrative and logistic issues in holding exams for nine lakh students from 4,500 colleges affiliated to 13 universities and 3,500 examination centres. These colleges and examination centres will first have to be sanitised regularly, until the exams are over. Colleges will have to bear additional burden for this purpose. Whether they will be reimbursed by universities for the expenses thereby incurred will be a major issue.
‘’There will be space constraints. Because of social distancing, every classroom can accommodate only 20 to 30 students. The universities will have to consider holding exams in four days or in two shifts, meaning there will be different exam papers. In such a scenario, examinations are likely to go on for at least two months in the state,’’ said a professor from the University of Mumbai.
Another professor from Pune University said, about 8,000 to 9,000 question paper moderators will be needed and well over 25,000 teachers and professors to complete the examination process. Given the current pandemic and lockdown situation, arranging transportation for both, teachers and students will be a major problem. ‘’Apart from transportation, the lodging and boarding arrangements will have to be made. Sufficient water supply will have to be ensured, as well as safety norms put in place at colleges and examination centres. It is going to be very tough for students, as there is every danger of virus infection,’’ he noted.
The department official said a standard operating procedure would be formulated, which would be mandatory for all universities, colleges and examination centres to follow, in order to conduct exams.