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Is Bombay HC Right In Putting A Stay On 60:40 Pattern For Mumbai University Law Exams?

On October 29, the Bombay High Court stayed the implementation of the 60:40 exam pattern at all law colleges affiliated to the Mumbai University (MU) for the academic year 2018-19. In August 2018, the MU decided to introduce the 60:40 assessment system in law colleges. Simply put, it meant that 60 marks would be given for the semester-end exam while 40 marks would be ‘internal assessment’ for which the college would give marks. This would be a shift from the prevailing pattern where only a 100 mark semester-end examination is conducted (the ‘100:0 system’).

The suggested break-up of the 40 marks would be: 10 marks for ‘class participation’ and the remaining 30 marks were left to the discretion of the professor – they could be assignments, viva, presentations, class tests or a combination of any of them.

Were There Enough Compelling Reasons To Stay The Assessment Pattern?

It is important to note that similar combinations of internal and external assessments are followed in National law schools, IITs, IIMs and many other Universities in India and abroad. Also, in many law colleges, the internal assessments had already been completed before the HC judgement. Thus, the implementation of the 60:40 rule pattern should have stayed only if there was a compelling need to do so.

Three things are required to implement the 60:40 system Firstly, adequate time to conduct internal assessments. Second, teachers should be sensitised on best practices of conducting internals. Third, a change in the grading process to stem disparity in marks vis-a-vis students in the same college as well as other colleges.

The court in its order cited ‘hurried’ and ‘sudden’ implementation as well as ‘inconvenience’ caused to students who had ‘prepared’ according to the 100:0 system. The circular issued on August 24 and semester-end exams begins in December, Wasn’t this time enough to conduct internal assessments? What was ‘hurried’? My college has already completed all the internal assessments and adequate time was available to students to prepare for the internals (except where teachers notified the entire semester portion for a 10-mark test, but more on that later). Moreover, it is beyond my understanding as to what students had ‘prepared’ for differently until August 24, assuming the 100:0 system would continue. How would have the introduction of 60:40 impacted their ‘preparation’?

The recently conducted internal assessments (now futile) showed that most teachers were unenthusiastic in assessing these 30 marks, with many breathing contentments in copy-pasted assignments or minuscule-portion based class tests. While at the other end of the spectrum, some teachers had let loose the entire semester portion for as less as 10-mark class tests, that too in the middle of the semester!! This confirms the necessity to provide teachers with illustrative models and best practices on conducting internal assessment.

In this regard, the Court cited that there was nothing on record to prove that training had been given to teachers. As things stood, there were two kinds of colleges – one, where internals were already conducted and others where internals were yet to be conducted. For the present semester, training would make sense for the latter set of colleges and the Court and MU could have decided to hold video-based training (for example, uploading necessary resources on open platforms like YouTube) and then cascade them to in-house sessions by colleges. Both wouldn’t take more than a week to conduct, and the only fallout would’ve been the postponement of semester-end exams by a week or two to accommodate internals in November.

For colleges that had already conducted the internal assessment in the present semester (however drab as they may have been), most students accepted them as fair and equitable and hence did not warrant striking down all the time and effort spent. In few cases where manifestly disproportionate syllabus was asked in class tests, students could petition the college and ask for a more equitable assessment.

The Court observed that under the 60:40 system, ‘total disparity in granting assessment marks cannot be ruled out’.

It echoes a concern among students that some colleges would dole out marks while others could be tight-fisted in internal assessment. To my mind, the simple solution is to present percentile-based GPA(s) in the mark sheet, with the GPA/percentile referenced only with the respective college students. Again, this system is followed by almost all distinguished colleges in India. But unlike them, since we’re also competing with thousands of other students at the university level, the university should simultaneously release a percentile score for students for the 60-mark assessment, with percentile referenced to all university students giving that exam. Displaying both on a students’ marksheet would give anybody a fair and well-rounded measure of how well a student had performed. The court could have passed orders to this effect, bringing in place a nearly comprehensive grading system for MU students.

However, the court’s ‘disparity’ observation (and leaving it at that) is worrisome. It forebodes a situation where even next year, the university may be prevented from introducing any internal assessment system because the disparity would remain unless our grading systems change. Thus, the university must accompany the 60:40 system with percentile-based grading.

And agreed, the university has not come out with flying colours in implementing the system – lack of teacher sensitisation, confusion around ATKT assessment, and a lack of firm resolve to implement the system worked against the 60:40 pattern in the court.  But none of the above points is so compelling to put a hold on the implementation of this system.

Should The 60:40 System Be Implemented?

The most compelling reason for junking the 100:0 system is that it completely divorces classroom teaching from examination. A student is not motivated to either attend lectures or to refer to classroom notes. At least for law exams, all (s)he needs to do is be thorough with a few past year exam papers, and regurgitating them on the exam paper can help students easily sail through the passing mark. This also demotivates teachers from delivering anything beyond the textbook pages, because unfortunately, most students barely value anything that doesn’t directly correlate with marks.

The 60:40 system, on the other hand, can lead to a better situation. A teacher can set class tests or ask viva questions which can mirror what has been taught in the classroom, giving importance to what is due. It can also be a conduit for introducing innovative assessments. How about students being given contemporary legal case studies to solve (individually or as a group) and then debate them? Or assigning original research to students with necessary checks to ensure that students engage in original research. A multitude of combinations is possible to make learning and assessment more relevant and exciting.

A word of caution though – colleges should not impose a uniform internal assessment criterion, as that would kill the necessary freedom of assessment that should be available with any teacher. For instance, allowing only ten marks worth discretionary assessment to professors would discourage any innovative assessment involving time and effort of professors. Moreover, a mandated uniform criterion would ensure ‘uniform mediocrity’ in assessment instead of co-existence of good and mediocre assessments – admittedly, the latter scenario leaves us better off.

Some other peripheral arguments were also raised against the 60:40 system. One such argument was that part-time professors occupy most of the faculty positions in law colleges, and thus the 60:40 order would be unimplementable. But empirically, there is not even a shred of evidence to prove that part-time professors have been or would be any less successful (or otherwise) in any aspect of teaching – be it conducting lectures or internal exams. One petition complained that introducing the 60:40 system violated students’ ‘rights’ who had taken admission assuming the 100:0 system. Well, perhaps it violates our right to do only rote learning (in the 100:0 system) or the right to shun an assessment system that is the norm of the day in any university worth its’ salt across the world. Are we now saying that a University cannot alter its assessment patterns from the beginning of the academic year?

Some students have opposed the 60:40 system claiming that it will lead to ‘corruption’. Well, if our college teachers can be trusted so less, why not agitate against the recently-given power to colleges for checking semester-end papers of their students? In fact, why even rely on college office staff (which would ostensibly be more corruptible than a faculty member assuming lower salary) to conduct college admissions? One fails to understand what sets Mumbai law college professors apart from other university professors on the corruptible quotient.

Before concluding, another sore point for many students are the ten marks assigned for ‘class participation’, which in most colleges, is substituted by attendance percentage as the only deciding factor. In my opinion, if a teacher can indeed record the class participation and allot marks on that basis (despite a large student: teacher ratio), nothing better. Many distinguished colleges in our country also do this. But even if they can’t, what’s wrong in just letting attendance be the deciding factor? Either way, the need of the hour is to reverse the prevailing trend of low attendance in law colleges. And since marks are the sole motivation for most students to do or not do anything, giving marks for attendance will be a fair and objective way of meeting the end.

Way Forward

Internal assessments are not a panacea to the problems afflicting our University education system. Leaving aside the University administration woes (especially on conducting the external exams), our classrooms need talented and motivated faculty more than anything else. But they won’t come or stick around in a system that doesn’t motivate students to go beyond the textbook, to attend classes or allow teachers to assess their students. And in that lies the main merit of the 60:40 system.

Going forward, the Court has asked MU to notify 60:40 in advance for the next year and ‘put the students on notice’. I can’t imagine what students must do or change to be ‘prepared’ for this notice, but surely, we have delayed the crucial onset of bringing our assessment process at par with bare minimum standards expected today.

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