By Akanksha Mittal:

They say experience is the best teacher. And two experiences then are better teachers, I guess. So here are two such experiences that gave me two entirely different perspectives, yet zeroing down to perhaps just one conclusion. The Staff Selection Commission conducts examinations for graduates and post graduates for various government posts, apart from UPSC and DSSSB. Examinations for the posts that can be taken up by Visually Impaired Students have the provision of Scribes to make the examination smooth and accessible to the students. Keeping aside the whole debatable concept of “posts that can be taken up by the Visually Impaired”, here I am going to discuss two such instances when I became a Scribe for a few Visually Impaired persons appearing for the SSC Examinations.

During my first attempt at writing the paper for a visually impaired person, I went through three hours of emotional blackmailing by the candidate trying to cajole me into filling up the answers for him through my knowledge. I was caught in an ugly position where in the name of philanthropy I was actually cheating with the consent of the system! There are mathematical questions that a student with visual impairment has to answer which perhaps cannot be solved without using aids such as an Abacus or a Calculator. Having been accustomed to using the Abacus, two of the candidates I wrote the exam for found it difficult to calculate on their fingertips.

Further, repeating the questions thrice and asking them to repeat their choice of answers umpteen times leads to wasteful use of time. In that sense, even the provision of extra time of 20-40 minutes for the visually impaired students is sometimes not enough and sometimes not legitimate. If the scribe is honestly not doing the candidate’s paper then the former applies and if the scribe is “helping” the candidate with his answers then the latter.

To err is human. And having to bear the brunt of someone else’s mistake in something that perhaps decides your mode of earning a livelihood is exploitative. The visually impaired student places a lot of trust in the scribe who is marking his/her answers and is perhaps never going to be able to find out what went wrong if his scribes just could not answer the same way the candidate wants him/her to. Who is to blame?

The second experience pointed to the inefficiency of the examination system further. The scribes are paid a remuneration of Rs. 500 by the Government for being present at the examination centre during all the shifts in which the exams are conducted on a single day. Whether a scribe actually writes an exam for a candidate or not is not the concern. So technically, you can just plan a get together with your friends one pleasant Sunday afternoon, decide to mark your attendance as a scribe during the morning and afternoon sessions and get paid for just two signatures and catching up with your friends. And that is exactly what I saw a group of people doing there who were selected as scribes without any preliminary screening apart from meeting the minimum requirement of being a class 12 graduate.

What happens on rainy days when the candidates do not appear for the examination but the scribes do? The government pays a handsome amount to people for no work done by them. One such rainy day was the second time I decided to write the examination for a visually impaired, when most candidates missed their exam owing to the rain.

There is no denying that the government spends money in trying to make the exams more accessible to candidates with special needs. How much of this expenditure actually benefits them is the question. It would perhaps do some good if the government spent the same amount of money in providing the candidates with computers that would read out the question papers to the candidates who can then mark the answers with their own hand. Various countries like Spain actually use such an approach towards examinations.

Providing reservations to candidates with special needs is not the solution. Giving them equal opportunity to perform to the best of their capability is what is needed. In the words of an invigilator at the SSC examination, “Getting jobs through the 3% reservation for people with disabilities might succeed at giving them a livelihood, but they are sometimes more a liability to the government offices than assets”.

There is no denying that every person has the capability to perform like any other. All that we need is an equal opportunity to do that, which the current examination structure does not succeed in providing. Directing the expenditure towards the development of better infrastructure would perhaps be a more intelligent choice than just spending it because you believe you have so much of it!

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