Home / Education / News /  Covid-19 pandemic prompts Indian colleges to rush to online exams

With most colleges offbound due to covid, exam season this year is like none ever before. Many are looking at tech-enabled proctoring solutions, despite concerns about keeping a close vigil.

Siddhartha Gupta, chief executive officer (CEO) of online assessment platform Mercer Mettl, said the company has seen a 70-80% rise in demand for its platform from inatitutions during the covid-19 crisis.

Another company, mUni Campus, said it has about 35 universities during the pandemic and expects to sign 15 more in the next month.

“Exams and evaluations are much more important than teaching," said Bhupesh Daheria, Founder, mUni Campus. “Even small educational institutions and reputed management institutes in tier -2 and tier-3 cities have been continuously reaching out to us," said Gupta.

As the covid-19 lockdowns increase, colleges have been forced to consider other ways to conduct examinations. Online proctoring was amongst three models for student assessment suggested by an expert committee appointed by the University Grants Commission (UGC) earlier. Under the PM eVidya Programme, the HRD ministry has allowed the top 100 Indian universities to start online degree courses automatically from 30th May.

“The demand is not just from universities, it’s also from schools and other institutions," said Ankit Khandelwal, Director, Think Exam. Khandelwal said his company has been getting 10-15 queries every month over the past three months from universities, schools and more.

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which conducts the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), earlier allowed students to appear for the exam from home this year due to the pandemic. The Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Kashipur, had also held its trimester exams for first year students digitally. The college had 60% turnout for the exams. The National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE) tied up with mUni Campus to conduct online exams for students in certain courses earlier this month.

Despite the demand, there have also been protests against using such services. Many think that the model doesn’t necessarily provide for all students, bandwidth constraints, availability of devices or lack of connectivity could leave students at a disadvantage. Cheating is also a possibility another question many have.

Students from the Delhi University (DU) took to social media over the past week, protesting with the hashtag #DUAgainstOnlineExams. The Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) has also written to the university’s vice chancellor calling online examinations “discriminatory to all those students who do not have access to technology in all its forms".

Think Exam’s Khandelwal himself also said that remote proctoring solutions though useful, may not work for all scenarios. Especially scenarios where all students are attempting the same questions, over a fixed period of times.

He said questions about whether every student gave the exam under the same conditions could be hard to answer with such solutions, especially for national level competitive examinations, where a student may allege that they lost out on a chance because of power cuts, network loss or more.

Mettl’s Gupta pointed out that despite the rise in demand, some still have questions against such systems. “Educational institutions have their hiccups in going online. They think it’s easy to cheat an artificial intelligence (AI) based proctor," he said. He added that universities also worry about the kind of question formats such exams can accommodate and the volume of students they can support at a time.

At the same time, efforts have gone into mitigating problems like lack of bandwidth or Internet connectivity, avoiding cheating and more. For instance, Mettl’s solution watches for the candidates movements, recording if they’re looking elsewhere, whether they are interacting with someone else, if anyone else is in the room etc. The system uses a mix of AI and human proctors to reduce cheating as much as possible.

Similarly, mUni Campus’ solution also allows students to answer questions without the Internet, uploading them once a device reconnects. It also works on mobile phones. The company has built a hybrid solution, where students can look at a question on the phone, write it down on paper and upload to the system as a pdf. Proctoring solutions can also mitigate frauds during evaluation by hiding a student’s name and roll numbers, so that cases of teachers can’t take bribes to pass students.


Prasid Banerjee

An engineering dropout, Prasid Banerjee has reported on technology in India for various publications. He reports on technology through text and audio, focusing on its core aspects, like consumer impact, policy and the future.
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