The DU online open-book exams (OBE) that started on August 10, have proven to be a nightmare for students, who had already given evidence of these issues during the long-drawn case in the Delhi High Court to decide whether these exams should take place.
After the revised UGC guidelines had mandated exams for final year students to take place by September, the Delhi HC gave a nod to for the DU online exams to be conducted. However, Justice Pratibha Singh who passed the judgement, noted,
“It is a matter of record that hundreds of students have faced technical glitches while using the online portal of DU… In the present case, hearings over the last one month demonstrated several lacunae in the online OBE process. However, repeatedly, DU has taken the stand that it is fully prepared to conduct the examinations.”
The court directed the university to make certain measures to ease the examination process for students. These included an extra hour of time to all students to scan and upload their documents, another additional hour for PwD category students, that the question papers be made accessible on the website and through email, and auto-generated emails be sent to students to acknowledge that the answer sheet has been received. The court also directed the constitution of a grievance redressal committee, which will have retired judge of the Delhi HC, Justice Prathiba Rani, as its chairperson, to ensure transparent and fair redressal of grievances raised by students.
According to Adreeta Chakraborty, a final year B.A. student at St Stephens college, the website crashed on the very first day of exams. “I thought it was an issue with my internet connection but I saw that everyone in my class was panicking at the same time, because the website had crashed for everyone at the last minute”, she said. The papers are exceptionally lengthy compared to previous exams, and students are required to physically write their answers, scan all the sheets, convert the files to PDF, and then upload them on the portal. The portal shuts down as soon as the exam duration ends, and any emails sent after that duration also lead to penalisation of the student.
DU website crashes 5 minutes before the end of the exam, when I'm in the middle of uploading my final answer. Had a nervous breakdown for a second because I couldn't deal with the anxiety, let alone formulate an email with all the reqd info at the last moment. #DUOBE
— adreeta (@adreetired_pdf) August 11, 2020
She also pointed out that she faced these issues in spite of having access to a computer, smartphone, fast internet connection, and residing in a well connected metropolitan area. The issues were much more extreme and the exam process much more mentally distressing for students without access to technology, residing in flood affected areas, or internet lockdown affected areas like Kashmir.
mini freakout on the class group as some of us got mailed the wrong ques paper two hours before the exam time :/
why do you do this to us?#DUOBE
— lydia (@tranquilitybass) August 10, 2020
A story of #duobe many of my classmates were not able to submit the paper on time because of glitches or net issues. They emailed the scripts to the concerned authorities. What they got in reply is that their script might not have been submitted. They are not responding back.
— youdon'tknow (@asyoushouldnt) August 12, 2020
Elizabeth Hangsing, a student who resides in Aizawl, Mizoram, outlined similar problems which she faced while giving the DU online exams. These included malfunctioning of her internet connection and the time consuming process of scanning the individual sheets. The process of sending a grievance email at the last minute was also distressing. For her, the number of attachments she was required to attach (33 PDFs of 1 MB each) exceeded the file limit (25 MB) and she was not able to send the email by the stipulated time. In a ridiculous turn of events, the email address set up by the university to address grievances could not be found. Saumya Saxena who lives in Faridabad mentioned the issue of a power cut that she had. Many students in Kerala mentioned that due to the heavy rains, the internet connection had been slow and erratic. The University was also not able to provide free PDFs of all the books required for the exams.
Du OBE Exam
Expectations: We have a very strong server and it will be able to handle all the load
Reality: Students freaking out, shivering, error continuously showing even after uploading.#cancelfinalyearexams #31StudentsInSCAgainstUGC #duobe #OBE @indSupremeCourt pic.twitter.com/zbxlY5WIW3
— Prakhar Varshney (@Prakhar29276094) August 11, 2020
The Uni admin sent out a reading list for one of my subjects, to "help" children who did not have their books, and for a few articles, an amazon link was attached, which is a shameless act. If you can't find free PDFs, how will you conduct online exams? #DUAgainstOnlineExams pic.twitter.com/qONhCkEfxF
— uDas Kapital (@Sarthak664) May 19, 2020
The important thing to note is that these issues were not unexpected and had been pointed out to the Delhi High Court and denied by the University. For students whose graduation depends on such technicalities and institutional incompetencies that they are not responsible for, this myriad of issues is extremely distressing. Yet, even after all of these issues were pointed out on the first day of the exam, the University filed an appeal against the HC order in order to reverse the few relaxations that had been given to the students.
Update: University of Delhi has filed an appeal against judgement given in our case. They have a problem apparently with the reliefs given in our case & the High Powered Panel setup by the Hon'ble Court & it's decision to keep monitoring the outcome of OBE, giving one hour extra.
— Akash Sinha (@advAkashSinha) August 11, 2020
Why is the University so hell-bent upon conducting these online exams and escaping all accountability for the functioning of the same? The OBE is being hosted on a server of Amazon Web Services, with whom the University has made a deal, and to whom the students are paying their exam fees.
Finally, a probable reason for the adamance of DU VC on the question of Online exams: CORPORATE!
Deal with Amazon Web Sevices of about 2.5 crores!
— AISA – Delhi University (@aisa_du) July 5, 2020
This examination process then, opposed by both students and professors, is vehemently supported by the administration as part of a larger move towards privatisation through online education, where crucial university functions are being outsourced for profit, to the detriment of the quality and accessibility of education.