Open Book Exams (OBEs) begin for DU’s 2 lakh final year students today. The OBEs have been widely opposed by students and teachers, with many citing that it makes no sense. What is even more baffling is that second-year students will be graded on their assignments and not have to sit through these exams. The reasoning for making third years sit these exams, which are a logistical and mental nightmare for many students after the destruction of the second wave of the pandemic is flawed, to say the least.
Messages like this and constant crashes of the website were extremely prevalent during both rounds of OBE in 2020.
According to Delhi University, the reasoning for third years to have OBE is so that their future is not affected as they have their final grades when applying for employment or higher studies. While this reasoning seems acceptable at first glance, one needs to ask how does this stop the University from using Assignment based grading for final years? The fact that fifth-semester results are still not out for many students while they start their 6th-semester exams is also questionable.
Here are 5 reasons why DU has made a terrible decision by conducting OBEs.
DU has held OBEs twice before, once in the summer and once in the winter of 2020. Both times, there were many issues with the OBE portal that were not resolved. From students not being able to log in, not being able to download their paper when the exam started, and not submitting their paper when the exam ended. Factor all of these in with constant crashes and you will begin to understand the OBE experience for many DU students.
Some papers were not even prepared, and DU uploaded PDfs of handwritten question papers, old question papers, or papers from different subjects entirely.
Many students, including final years, were volunteering online or offline to collate, deliver, and source resources during the second wave of the pandemic while the government was busy campaigning in West Bengal. These students who have already gone through a lot are now being made to write exams in such an extraordinary situation.
Priya, a third-year student from DU speaks about the grief volunteering had inflicted on them. They say “On the most difficult days, I used to make at least 150-200 calls to hospitals, oxygen cylinder suppliers, remdesivir suppliers, etc. It was usually disappointing as no one would pick up or most of the times they were unable to help due to a lack of resources. It was draining as hell. I and others had to turn off our brains and help people even if we were losing patients daily. We were so furious at the government since they had around 14 months to work on some infrastructure, but they chose not to do anything. When I heard the news of the passing away of a young professor’s husband, I cried endlessly for hours. It was not only that I was worried about the professor and her children, but now it seemed that the shared grief of all the people had a face and that was my professor’s face.”
For them, OBE is “‘jale pe namak (salt on the wound)’. It’s brutal in every sense. The assumption that third-year students have not gone through difficult times if not hell, is absolutely infuriating.”
“It’s my third semester online. I used to be a bright student earlier and now I’m forced to look for shortcuts. I cannot study at all. Sure I’ve read many books, but the ability to focus and then make notes and then use my brain in a ‘normal’ way seems bizarre.”
Ateen, a third-year student from Kirori Mal College, says, “Volunteering was terrifying, people were begging for resources that weren’t there and by the time we could arrange something it was too late. Having to deal with the impact of both this and personal grief caused by the pandemic, has been made especially difficult in the face of OBEs, which were already anti-student in that they re-enforced a digital divide and were incredibly inaccessible. Sometimes it feels like the DU Admin does cruel things to purposefully hurt students, honestly.”
Saniya Nautiyal, a third-year student from Sri Venkateshwara College, points out, “My frame of mind right now is that I’m incredibly stressed out about so many things. I thought I would be helping at least a few people by volunteering, but it just made me feel more helpless because there were absolutely no resources left anywhere, most hospitals weren’t picking up, people were dying within minutes of reaching out, unable to get the required help. Then began the whole black marketing deal which further brought our volunteering into question. A couple of students got calls from the police telling them to shut down all volunteering and so eventually we had to.”
“Because of the threats and also because there were simply no resources left anywhere. It was a terrible situation. Distressing. So many people lost their loved ones. All of my friends lost someone or the other. I had covid during last semester’s OBE, my father had to be hospitalised, we were all sick and stressed and when I informed my college’s admin and asked if there was any provision for covid positive students from DU, they said you can skip the exam, we’ll mark you absent and you’ll just have to take then next year. So basically, no provisions.”
Ruchita Sharma, a third-year student from DU, when asked about the futility of OBE exams, had this to say, “I mean going into exams seems just to be an obligation now, there is no interest and that actually crosses out the whole point of examinations. the whole country is suffering and many of whom are families and friends of students, it’s rather Thoughtless, unconcerned and insensitive behaviour from institutions that are going through with any form of examinations at the moment. To be putting pressure at the moment, while a whole lot of students go through so much stress.“
They point out that third-year students tried to get OBEs cancelled last year and did so this year too, without avail. This is just how “DU works” and they have “exhausted their voices” asking for anything less than apathy from the University Administration.
“What makes this even more stressful is the fact that DU has increased the number of questions to attempt for many subjects from 3 to 4 in the online format. Last semester, we had to attempt 3 essays out of 6 for our subject. This time they’re saying it’ll be 4 out of 6 as if they’re rubbing it in our faces.
OBE is a joke, they should’ve just taken assignments and marked us on them like they’re doing it for every other year. The exam itself means nothing, literally, all anyone’s doing is copying answers. It’s just unnecessary, meaningless labour. It doesn’t test our intellect in any way or form,” Saniya Nautiyal points out.
Delhi University has displayed remarkable apathy with its conduct of Open Book Examinations.
In a country where less than 50% of people have access to the internet, asking students in a University where people from all over the country attempt an exclusionary format of examinations is just furthering the divide. Many students do not have the basic resources to attempt these exams, and these include a quiet place in their home where they can concentrate on their exams in solitude.
At this time, there is nearly no student in the university who hasn’t lost a loved one to COVID, and asking them to sit for exams or delay their graduation is simply inhumane. For DU, their flawed reasoning of OBE helping students further only applies to a very small privileged minority who will be able to give these exams without mental and logistical pressures.