Virtual Classrooms and Open Book Examinations

Virtual classrooms is a phrase that has become an important part of the new normal, and along with it comes the infamous open-book examinations. Who would have thought that in 2020, the mainstream physical examinations would be replaced by open book examinations. But then again, who in their wildest dreams would have thought that the whole world will be stuck inside their homes, or away from it, for almost a year. The pandemic has clearly uprooted the lives of many, and the students, all across the globe, are no different. 

Students have been forced to stay within the four walls of their houses, and attend digital schooling. In a country like India or the UK, it was March or April when the lockdown started as a result of the pandemic, and honestly, at that time no one thought it would go on for this long. In fact, no one was prepared for this pandemic and surely wasn’t ready to adapt to it. 

It was clear from the start that the educational institutions were going to make decisions that might not be suited for the heterogeneous society that we are. Too many debates, discussions and uncertainty led to all sorts of discussions on what to do for the students who had their exams approaching. Thus, emerged the idea of open-book examinations for final year college students. This was initially taken up by Delhi University. The exams got postponed so many times that by the time we took the test we had lost the count. But when these examinations did take place, they happened at a definite, not-so-unclear cost. 

You see, as a person, who could afford to have a separate room and a laptop to take the exams in peace, I was still drowned in intense amounts of anxiety. For, as a student since the past 17 years, all I had to focus on was my paper. Anything from a wrong question, to doubts, to submission of sheets was to be taken care of by the invigilators. The usage of any sort of technology wasn't even a part of the discussion. So these 17 years taught me to dedicate my whole three hours to write the exam. But with this pandemic and open-book examinations, it meant that for once I was required to do all the tasks by myself, using technology, an approach that many of us were clueless about, the added stress being whether the sheets were being uploaded and were the scanned images even clear. All this made me wonder about those who did not have all these layers of privilege I had, and the added stress levels they had to deal with. Obviously, by no means can I even come close to understanding how dreadful all this would have been for them.

It is in times like these where the only source of interaction and schooling is through technology, people are forced to be left out, just because they cannot afford such a luxury. Thus, in such situations, something like education that we consider a necessity, in fact, becomes a luxury for many people. 

Since the past few months, all the classes are being taken online. Within the span of these months, the mode of examinations has expanded to become MCQ-based or assignment-based. Despite all of this, looking at the state of students, it all doesn't look so different from the idea of a zero academic year, which many people find absurd. The students are constantly stuck onto the screens to study and then to do their homework and assignments, no wonder they are so tired from it all. From teachers figuring out how to make it all understandable to a class with no video and microphone on, to the students attending the class but sleeping through most of it. There is little to no education taking place. 

All of this seems like it was bound to happen because our teaching methods have been developed for face-to-face interactions and not for video-call sessions. Moreover, Indian education systems aren't even reformed enough to focus on teaching the concepts, rather than focusing on exams, which clearly doesn't sit well with the condition we are in currently. Hence, it really makes no sense to have open-book examinations or any form of virtual examinations for that matter, when our whole education system is based on seeing how well you remember what you have learnt, and not really how well you grasp the concept. 

The pandemic has already increased our anxiety levels, and an education like this just adds to it all. This is only the state of the ones who are privileged enough to actually have access to such resources and means of education. There are so many students out there who due to different reasons cannot take up online classes. And hence have no other option but to skip this year, in the hopes that they'll get to join next year. No one can imagine the stress of these children and the huge loss to their mental health as a result of not being able to take up classes this year. We did see one such incident come forth from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, where a brilliant student was so burdened by the stress of her family's financial incapability that it made her take her own life. It was only then that the college decided to take action towards reducing fees and providing help to those in need. But is it really the lack of financial capability of the family, or the lack of concern of the people sitting on the other end, who refuse to look into how the pandemic could be affecting the students and their families? 

Looking around we do see differences when it comes to how the private institutions and government institutions have dealt with digital schooling. And definitely, there is a clear difference between nations across the globe. However, despite these differences, with some institutions clearly having a better grasp of virtual classroom systems, none of the institutions were prepared to shift their entire curriculum fully online for a whole year, or maybe even more. And even though, for once I am willing to believe that all the educational institutions took the most suitable option in the current scenario, there are still aspects which they just chose to ignore. While they adapted to the new normal, they forgot to look into the students who too had to adapt to it. From lack of concern towards the cash crunch that people are facing, to the effects of the pandemic on the mental and physical well-being of students — all of this is far from being discussed. There are still students left who haven't taken examinations due to various reasons, and they are constantly under stress, with the uncertainty of when they'll actually take them only growing. Every day my Instagram stories are filled with students crying over the extensive amount of pressure from the deadlines of assignments and the upcoming exams.

All of this makes us wonder what is the point of such an education that only focuses on finishing the curriculum and not even on making sure that each and every student is actually able to attend these classes. Even if it seems that digital schooling is the only possible option right now, is it really worth it if it is at the expense of the sanity of the students, especially with so many students being left out of it altogether?


Priyanshi Mehra

A person in her 20s trying to learn and unlearn things as I create my own path. A curious being with an endless list of passions.

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