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Govt of India 'overlooks' option for open book examination in new education policy

By NS Venkataraman*

When I was a student of Annamalai University (Tamil Nadu) several years back, Dr CP Ramaswami Iyer (Dr CP) was the vice chancellor. It has been well recognized, then and now, that Dr CP was one of the brilliant educationists, scholars and administrators.
When Dr CP was the Vice Chancellor for the second time in 1960s, he used to be present in the campus for around ten days every month. When he would be in the campus, he used to address several meetings of students and staff on various subjects in Shastri Hall and Gokhale Hall.
Then, the halls were not full but with the participants who were well aware of the eminence of Dr CP and were eager to hear his speech. Many used to carry note pad and pen to write down the highlights of his speech. I was one of them.
Of the variety of topics that Dr CP used to cover in his speeches, there were many occasions when he stressed on the need and importance of reforming the educational system and testing methodology of the knowledge level of the students.
He decried the prevailing pattern of examination, where students are closeted in a hall, question papers given just at the beginning of examination along with blank answer sheets and at the end of the stipulated examination time, the students would hand over the answer sheets and move away from the hall.
Then, an unknown teacher would evaluate the answer sheets and provide grades and marks based on the answers provided, with little knowledge about the background and capability of the student.
Dr CP was of the view that the prevailing system of examination was flawed and was doing immense harm to the future of the students , by not evaluating them suitably and adequately.
Dr CP used to regret that in this traditional examination system, students were expected to provide set of answers as they have learnt from the text books without any scope for original thinking.
In other words, if the student would not provide the answers that are taught to them from the prescribed text book, the student would get poor marks. If the student would apply his innovative skill and come out with fresh and innovative ideas, it would not be encouraged or credits provided, as the student would have strayed away from the prescribed and accepted examination path.
Dr CP advocated that at least in the case of courses for higher studies and competitive examinations for job selection, an open book examination system would be the ideal method for assessing the capability of the students.
In the traditional examination system, students are expected to provide set of answers as they have learnt from text books without any scope for original thinking
Dr CP suggested that student should be allowed to take any notes or books that they want to the examination hall and the questions should not be routine or predictable, though the question should be within the overall syllabi for the course. The question should be directed in a way that the student would have to apply his/her mind, instead of reproducing the memorized lessons in a routine way. 
Today, what student gets in the classes is the one person education given by one person namely the teacher and given to the students for getting academic qualification and marks. The education is not oriented towards knowledge for the sake of knowledge but for success in the examination. Marks obtained by the students has become the be all and end all for assessing the merits or demerits of the students.
Dr CP even went on to the extent of saying that setting such question paper for students in the open examination system is a challenge for the teachers as well. They need to exercise their thoughts very carefully and keep an open and interested mindset in evaluating such answer sheets from the students, who undergo the open book examination system.
Of course, this suggestion cannot be blindly applied to education at all level in today’s context , where the concept of reservation for admission in educational institutions and job selection have come to stay.
In today’s context, this suggestion should be considered for NEET examination and for selection of candidates for All India Services.
It is high time that educational experts in the country should introspect about this great suggestion of Dr CP and try to implement the idea, at least in an experimental way to start with.
With the Government of India evolving new education policy which is now discussed all over India by cross section of people, it is strange that the open book examination system has not even been thought about or mentioned.
---
*Trustee, Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai

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