Sunday, 26 May 2013

Declining Morals and Ethics in Higher Education

Recently, one case of impersonation has been reported in the recently concluded final examinations of the Spring Semester, 2013. Apparently, a student of B.Tech. I Yr. had arranged to have someone else write the examination of EC-101A Computer Systems and Programming on his behalf. The person who actually took the examination had forged the candidate's signatures on the attendance sheet. The matter was brought to light by some students raising questions about the sanctity of the examination and evaluation system. Some students have also alleged that the impersonation was not limited to this single case rather there were multiple instances of impersonation in the final examination of at least two more courses this semester. This kind of lack of oversight and supervisory control in the conduct of academic affairs is a direct fall-out of the steep increase in the student intake in recent years. It is now impossible to have a personal one-to-one interaction with the students which goes a long way in forging a teacher-student bond and encourage more engaging discussions in the classrooms. This was, probably, what Late Prof. P.V. Indiresan (formerly of University of Roorkee, and later Director IIT Madras) had in mind when he had filed a PIL in Supreme Court against the Ministry's decision to increase the student intake by 54%.  It is an alarming disregard for the rule of the land that these students have shown. Impersonation is a criminal offense for cheating, forgery and fraud, punishable with 7 year jail term,  under Indian Penal Code of 1860. It should make us all halt in our tracks and ponder about the purpose of education being imparted in our institutions of higher learning. Are we helping create a generation of cheats and slackers?

It may be very easy and probably more convenient to brush this issue aside calling it an aberration. However, the long-term implications of such ostrich-like attitude are horrifying, to put it mildly.  First, the concept of level-playing field for all can be thrown away. Students with strong management skills can always manage to get other to write their examinations for some professional appearance fees! In any case, we are producing more of managers than engineers/technocrats if the level and kind of participation of our students in the Technical Festival - Cognizance is any indication. We might as well forego evaluation of students' performance in examinations. The grades for the course can possibly be awarded on the basis of some demonstrable quality of "managing" examinations. After all, is that not what the managers are supposed to do and judged for --- the skill in getting the work done? Whatever may be means adopted for the purpose --- the ends always justify the means! Scoring well in examinations is just another kind of work which can be possibly outsourced to someone with real technical skill but probably lacking in management skills!  Does it make any sense to evaluate the answer scripts of students which had been outsourced? Who is getting the reward (Grades) and for whose efforts? The entire edifice of higher education will crumble if this case is allowed to fall through the cracks within the system. Imagine, how convenient would be our life as course instructor if we did not have to bother about evaluating tutorials, answer scripts, etc. Even the classroom lectures can be dispensed with and a live streaming of recorded lectures can be fed into students' halls. The faculty members can then devote their time and energy to more quantifiable metrics of research projects and publications.

I presume that most of us will agree that the scenario presented above can not be the way forward if we are serious about building our reputation as a force to reckon with in the field of technical education on the world stage. Therefore, this malaise has to be nipped in the bud. The first thing that we should do is to explore the possibility of roping in a Forensic Laboratory to collect random handwriting samples of all B.Tech. I Yr. students and have it cross-checked with the writing on the answer scripts of the final examination. This may be the only way to nab the culprits whose identities are not known. The culprits when caught should be handed an exemplary punishment including filing  a formal police complaint for cheating, fraud and forgery so that no student in future will dare to cross the fine line between acceptable and unacceptable. Further, the students should be asked to put their thumb impressions in the attendance sheet as well as on the answer script. It should then be possible to cross check the authenticity of the candidate at a later date by using the thumb impression database available with JEE during admissions. These small measures will go a long way in preventing such acts of cheating and ensure better compliance.