Bangalore/Delhi: India’s deficient power, telecom and technology infrastructure is looming as a stumbling block in other educational institutions following the elite Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) in taking their admission tests online.
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Other institutes such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) also desire to take their admission tests online and avoid the logistical nightmare of administering it physically for tens of thousands of aspiring students. That may not be possible in a hurry.
For an admission test to be administered online, students need access to a computer with a broadband connection plus uninterrupted power supply.
For a country of over one billion people, the broadband subscriber base in India stands at just 3.87 million as of March 2008, according to data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Personal computers, including desktops and notebooks, total 7.3 million.
There are no plans on “the horizon” to take the IIT-joint entrance examination, or IIT-JEE, online soon, says Gautam Barua, director at IIT Guwahati. “One of the issues is there are a lot of students from small towns.”
Small towns in India bear the brunt of severe power cuts and have shaky Internet connections, if at all. A.K. Binda, sub-dean of examinations at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, also cites the same reason for not moving online in the next few years.
The IIMs, which said on Monday that they would take CAT online, have departed from the paper-and-pen format to cater to the rising number of applicants. About 250,000 students took the CAT in 2008, up from 95,000 in 2003. Students who appear for CAT are largely urban students with a degree in hand.
Computer-based testing companies have long regarded India as a large, untapped market with at least 36 million children enrolled just in higher secondary (class IX-XII) schools. The potential market in India is larger than in the US given the sheer number of students, says Pawan Adhikari, business development manager at Gurgaon-based Prometric Testing, whose parent conducts seven million tests every year including the Graduate Record Examinations, or GRE, and Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL.
Another problem is that online tests will require the creation of a question bank as students will take the tests over a period of a few days and questions cannot be repeated. In a paper-and-pen format, all students write the examination simultaneously and only one question paper is required.
IIT Madras director M.S. Ananth says IIT-JEE will not go online next year and several issues such as creating a large question bank need to be tackled first. Nearly 375,000 students sat for the IIT-JEE this month to win an undergrduate seat in engineering schools.
Despite the problems, “All exams will move online sooner or later,” says Gautam Puri, vice-chairman of Career Launcher India Ltd, a test-prepatory company