New Delhi: The largest technical university of Odisha has assigned a private firm with a dubious track record to conduct online examinations for the final semester for around 25,000 students enrolled in various courses. Despite the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, examination centres have been identified in various districts for students who cannot appear in the tests from their homes.
According to sources, the Hyderabad-based private firm, earlier known as Globe Arena, has been blacklisted by the Telangana government for goofing up in an examination-related service outsourced to it in 2019. The firm had been hired by the Telangana State Board of Intermediate Education to conduct exam enrolment and for processing results for Class 10 and Class 12 students.
Globe Arena was subsequently booked by the Telangana police and was also dragged to court for its lapses. NewsClick had reported on the same last year.
When asked by NewsClick whether the centres are well-equipped for conducting the examinations Biju Patnaik Technical University’s (BPUT) Director of Examinations, Dr. Deepak Kumar Sahoo, said a private firm had been enlisted to provide their services.
“We have our own examination partner. A company based in Hyderabad – Coempt Eduteck Private Limited – will provide these services. The state government has decided to give an opportunity to final-year students keeping prospective jobs or further studies in mind. Home computer-based online open book examinations with innovative outcome-based questions will be conducted for final year students. Those who cannot appear in these exams can opt for offline exams to be conducted in a regular manner as and when the colleges reopen,” said Dr. Sahoo.
“The firm changed its name from Globe Arena to Coempt Eduteck Private Limited last year. But we have an MoU with it as our examination partner since 2015,” added Dr Sahoo.
Nearly one-third, approximately three lakh of the close to nine lakh students who appeared in the examinations from Telangana had failed. It led to a spate of suicides by students who felt they had been wrongly assessed. Nearly 18 students killed themselves within a week of the results having been declared. Re-evaluations of certain answer sheets revealed gross errors by the private firm.
It is noteworthy that colleges in Odisha were declared shut sine die following the nationwide lockdown enforced by the Centre in March to contain COVID-19. No centres have been notified by Biju Patnaik Technical University (BPUT), formed in 2002 through an Act of the legislative assembly, for students who belong to states other than Odisha.
The University, which boasts around 137 affiliated colleges, has suspended all regular examinations that were to be held due to COVID-19. However, the state government decided to conduct multiple-choice type online exams for final semester students since the majority among them will need degrees for pursuing higher studies or for joining their workplaces.
“Students including those of interior rural and hilly areas and others anticipating inadequate internet connectivity, non-availability of desktop/laptop at their home can be allowed to appear in online mode with prior consent of the head of the institution from any of the University affiliated technical/professional institution under the University, or government polytechnics/ITIs (non-Covid 19 Quarantine Center/Hospital) inside the State out of the BPUT approved list (sic),” the University stated in a notification.
The notification was issued by BPUT – headquartered in Rourkela – on June 27. It said the examination would be conducted through ‘Artificial Intelligence Proctored Platform along with Manual Proctoring (Supervisor/Invigilation)’.
The online examinations were announced despite students clamouring for final semester results to be declared through a ‘normalisation’ process in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Normalisation’ is where students’ performances are evaluated by calculating the average marks obtained in previous semesters, along with marks secured in internal assessments in the last semester.
Students who will appear for the examinations are enrolled in courses including engineering, architecture, pharmacy and business administration. The online examination process will kick off from July 1 with the launch of trial and mock tests for Principals and teachers in-charge of all affiliated and constituent colleges of BPUT.
“Our only concern is that the final year students should pass irrespective of whether exams are conducted or not. Since the state government has decided to conduct the exams and BPUT has already rolled out a schedule, we are sure they must have developed a proper system for it,” said Binod Dash, Secretary, Odisha Private Engineering Colleges Association.
However, ever since the online examinations were declared, students began a social media campaign titled #BPUTStopKaroNa in a bid to convince the university authorities to cancel the examinations and normalise the results. Students have argued that a number of their batch-mates had even left their books behind while vacating the hostels at short notice following the lockdown announcement. The lack of books, the students said, will not help them in an open-book examination system, adding to the fact that they are not well-versed with the multiple-choice format.
They added that it will be very difficult for most of them to appear for their examinations from home given the strict technological parameters. As per the guidelines, the computer to be used by the student should have a system configuration including the minimum requirement of an i3 processor and an internet bandwidth of one MBPS at least. The bandwidth is rarely available in rural and hilly areas.
In addition, the firm conducting the examinations has been mired in controversy in the past.
Sources said the Odisha government handpicked the private firm for BPUT without adopting a transparent bidding process, but only based on its previous experience. According to sources, the evaluation of answer sheets will be allocated by the private firm to a list of teachers which has already been prepared and sent to it by the BPUT. The answer sheets will also be sent over for assessment through regular email, NewsClick has learnt, which are open to hacking and manipulation.
NewsClick reached out to Sanjay Singh (IAS), Commissioner-cum-Secretary to the Government in the Skill Development & Technical Education Department. Singh refused to comment on the matter.
Following the students’ protests, Bhubaneshwar-based social activist and politician, Suparno Satpathy, spoke to the Odisha governor, Prof. Ganeshi Lal – also the Chancellor of BPUT.
“I have been told that this firm has been blacklisted by the Telangana government. The Odisha government should pay heed to the students’ demand for cancellation of the examinations. The results should be normalised as an average of the results of all previous semesters and internal assessments of the last semester. Those failing to make the grades or wanting to improve grades should be given the option to appear in regular exams when the colleges reopen,” added Satpathy, who is Chairman of the non-profit organisation Srimati Nandini Satpathy Memorial Trust, named after the former Chief Minister of Odisha.