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Conflicting conditions arising due to Covid-19 continue to invite incessant discussion around the high-stakes entrance exams for admission in top institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology.
With the closure of educational institutions, over 1.72 billion learners were reported to be affected across the globe. In India only, over 1.44 crore students appeared for their school-leaving exams, and close to 50 lakhs of these students were looking to enroll in a higher education institution this academic session.
Amid all the chaos, the National Testing Agency (NTA), decided to go ahead with most prominent and diverse entrance exams in September to save the academic year for millions of students aspiring to gain admission in India’s premier institutions. Well, this is commendable.
However, the moot question is why we could not prepare towards going fully digital and conducting online Joint Entrance Exam or JEE Main and National Eligibility cum Entrance Test or NEET (undergraduate), meant for securing admissions in engineering and medical colleges respectively? With digital access in many parts of the country, this could have been the biggest opportunity to showcase India’s growing prowess in technology in learning, assessing and democratising education.
Taking the example of JEE Main — the question paper of which, said to be unpredictably difficult, includes Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics with negative marking and takes 3-4 years of preparation — could have been resolved by resorting to the best global practices.
We can look at online examination platforms such as Mercer | Mettl. These solutions offer end-to-end exam management. They come pre-configured with online proctoring and offer services from test creation to scheduling and grading. Or something advanced in the same line could have been chalked out to support STEM requirements including equations, symbols, diagrams and flowcharts.
Also, the national level test organisers could have looked at aspects that ensure taking care of issues such as: academic dishonesty, managing students in different zones, providing adequate resources to everyone including those with disabilities to take the exam, and most importantly, ensuring that students have the technology to take exams online with seamless data and connection.
Remote invigilation of a candidate can be performed via a webcam that can be AI-enabled with a three to five step authentication (candidate’s) process to prevent impersonation, along with a safe browser, which ensures that candidates are not cheating via internet during the exam.
Notably, online monitoring requires nothing big, but a webcam, microphone and a reliable Internet connection with a machine adept to use all of these devices.
Overall, the past four months could have been utilised in practicing continuous drills towards undertaking online exams as preparedness towards these entrance exams. Locations encountering internet connection problems could have recognised satellite centres to conduct these exams. Now, for the next year’s academic session, we must be prepared.
The country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his Independence Day speech that in the next 1,000 days, every village in India will get optical fibre internet, which is encouraging news. Actions taken in small steps towards the same will help in unleashing the Digital India campaign in the true sense, leading every higher education aspirant to have access to the kind of education they want.