Thursday, February 24, 2011
Examinations: who guards the guards?
Our education system puts a high premium on examinations. As in any other aspect of the system, here, too, the teacher factor is crucial: it is teachers that set question papers, administer examinations, and evaluate students' performance. In any discussion on examinations vis-à-vis teachers, the first and the third are given a lot of importance, but the second, namely, invigilation at examinations, is ignored. For two reasons: one, the system trusts invigilators, and, two, it doesn't have an alternative. Do teachers, as invigilators, prove themselves worthy of the trust placed in them?
Well, I'll share with you a couple of representative incidents. Twelve years ago, I took an examination for a diploma in creative writing (DCW). I was the only candidate taking the DCW examination in my centre, and all the others were MBA candidates. Within an hour of the commencement of the examination, the invigilator, the only one for all of us, fell asleep, and the MBA candidates had a field day: there was mass copying for a good half hour. I woke the invigilator and told him what was happening, but he didn't seem upset. Within minutes, he dozed off again, which led me to suspect that it was a strategy on his part to help the MBA examinees.
During the course of an SSC examination in Andhra Pradesh, I overhead the students of a Catholic mission school who were taking the examination in one of the centres in Vijayawada complain to their teachers that cheating was rampant in the centre. The invigilators, they alleged, were busy helping the students from two private schools with answers. A girl who was taking the SSC examination in the same centre reported something more interesting. Ever since the examinations commenced, her neighbour in the examination hall, a boy from a different school, had been troubling her for the answers. When the girl refused to oblige on the first day, the boy's mother went to the girl on the second day, shed tears and begged her to help her son. "I haven't yielded so far and the boy is getting desperate", the girl said. Here is the punch-line: one of the invigilators in the examination hall reportedly asked the girl, "What are you going to lose if you help that poor boy?"
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who guards the guards?) asked Juvenal. Centuries have passed since, but there is no answer.