DU Exams: Why Scrap Online Open Book Examination (OBE)?

Graffiti against online exams in university wall

Delhi University had decided to hold Online Open-Book Examination (OBE) for final year students following the COVID-19 crisis. The decision invited grievous criticism from both the student and teacher’s community for its exclusionary and discriminatory design. Several student organizations such as Students’ Federation of India (SFI), All India Students’ Association (AISA), Pinjra Tod, and teachers’ associations including the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA), an official body in the university, protested against this move. They pointed out particularly the digital divide and the limited access that severely affects students from weaker socio-economic backgrounds.

In the context of the current pandemic-driven catastrophe, students and teachers demanded the University to be empathetic towards the students, whose mental health has taken a toll due to various difficulties like lack of study materials, equipment, and stable internet connectivity. During the lockdown, students hurried to their native places anxiously, failing to carry all their study materials. Further, to make matters worse, most graduate and postgraduate study materials are hardly available in the public domain. In a survey conducted by DUTA, participated by nearly 50,000 students, 85 per cent of the respondents indicated that they were not in a position to appear for the Online Open-Book Examinations. Therefore, Delhi University administration should review the preparedness of students before rushing towards an examination. However, the Delhi High Court has given the nod for OBE disregarding all these aspects.

The University has already faced the difficulty and impracticality of holding online classes. Students witnessed a period of direful learning due to reasons ranging from online applications crashing unexpectedly to the unavailability of network coverage. The University might not have forgotten the instances of its humiliating website crashes after students lined up for checking their exam results earlier. The two sets of mock exams also exposed the incompetence of Delhi University. Hardly anyone could finish their mock exams without facing technical glitches. The turnout for the mock exam was also considerably low. Even though 1.83 lakh students registered for the first phase of the mock test, only around 93,000 students could log in and only approximately 33,000 among them could submit their papers. In the second phase these figures were 1.86 lakh, 75,500, and 23,600 respectively. Even the court observed it as a clear indication that students are not thoroughly prepared for the upcoming online examinations. 

Delhi University is one of the prominent Universities in India. A high enrollment of outstation students stretching from southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu to northernmost states like Jammu & Kashmir, and North-Eastern India is a significant feature of Delhi University. How will a Kashmiri student with weak internet infrastructure, persistent curfew restrictions, and lockdown appear for Online Open-Book Examination? What about the students affected in Assam Floods or students facing tough monsoons in their region? On top of it, India is heading towards a record surge in COVID-19 cases! How can the University be so impractical and insensitive towards the socio-economic and demographic profiles of its students? How different would the exam’s meaning be for a disadvantaged student, and a privileged student having easy access and a conducive atmosphere for learning? In a society already marked by different hierarchies, why does the University reinforce those during a pandemic? Have ever, at least once, the University thought about the plight of students struggling to find an internet cafe or grappling with a limited-capacity mobile phone to finish their mandatory examinations? What about the worries of differently-abled students struggling to find scribes and assistive devices?

There is also doubt about the concept of Online Open Book examination. The OBE is meant to evaluate students’ capacity to understand the concept and use it at an application level. How exactly is an Online Assignment submission different from Online OBE? Opposition to online OBE, is not only about technical issues in access or submission of the exam paper. Students with access to more resources - online or offline will be at a greater advantage while writing the exam. Different from the usual Open Book exams, the possibility of seeking help from a third person, or using the internet, or other facilities to access information is available in this context. This may certainly discriminate students who are not in a situation or are unwilling to use any of these possibilities.

In Delhi High Court, the university administration indicated that there would be Physical Examination later for those who couldn't appear in the Online examination. But there is no clear information from the University regarding this. There is no clarification regarding the date, mode of examination, and the precautions ensured. So, the feasibility of availing such an option in the current uncertainty is questionable. Students indeed will be forced to appear for the online exams at this juncture.

The suggestions from different organisations in the campus and DUTA provided alternative methods of evaluation. They suggested that an evaluation of the current semester with the average scores of the previous semester, as done for the intermediate-year students, appears to be more practical in the current situation. Allotting assignments to be completed on a prescribed time-frame might be another possible option. Banaras Hindu University has currently planned their evaluation in the second method.

The Students have tried to reach out to the University through physical protests respecting COVID-19 protocol and online campaigns. Twitter storms and mass mailing were organised several times. Physical protests happened on the campus and near the Ministry of Human Resource Development/Ministry of Education (MHRD). The slogans 'Scrap Online OBE', 'Education without Exclusion' were continuously raised. A number of representations were given to the Vice Chancellor and other authorities. But Delhi University has not yet heeded to the concerns of students and teachers about OBE. Ironically, a university that once postponed examination citing the quarantine emergency of the assistant registrar does not seem to have the same concern for its lakhs of students. The question that remains is, for whom these examinations are conducted?


Akhil KM is a Law Student at Delhi University and Delhi state committee member of Students Federation of India.