Online exams, is it that bad? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Having read through the documents sent round about the Online Exams in GIJ, UPSA and UCC and despite being privy to a lot of arguments against it, I have come to the understanding that students stand to gain more than lose, for which reasons (that I will espouse in this write up) students should accept this. I know this may not sit well with many who’ll read this write up but I beg you to read carefully and look for the merits in my arguments. Plus, feel free to also share your counter-arguments with me.
Let’s start with flexibility of the exams. For the first time, students have 12, 24 and 48 hours to complete an exam with no invigilators. Normal face-to-face exams are written in 2 or 3 hours tops with hungry and angry invigilators watching with prying eyes all through, just so the can show where power lies if they get a student who seemingly flouts any rule. And students have complained so many times about how inconsiderate some invigilators have been to them, or how if they had just one minute more, they’d have been able to write the right answer to get an A in the paper. That’s why I don’t see why students cannot see the bright side of more than enough time to write a paper without supervision in this online exams situation.
Again on flexibility, from universities such as the UCC, UPSA and GIJ, who’s documents I am privy to, students would have to answer less number of questions than they would have in a face-to-face situation. In GIJ for instance, normally students answer 3 questions in a sit-down exam. But now, per the official document from management, students would be answering 2 questions in the online exams. There is even the possibility of multiple-choice (objectives) questions. To top it off, students are allowed to treat exams questions like assignments; access the questions, have enough time to attempt them and then submit within 24 hours. What else do we (students) want?
Now, let’s talk about the opportunities that students have to excel in an online exams that are absent in sit-down one. First, students can refer to their notes, slides or even the internet not only to understand questions but also to get appropriate answers to questions. Lets face it, no student is too honest or has so much integrity that when they have 24 hours to answer questions under no supervision and they find difficulty, they won’t refer. Students will refer, even if they know the answer, just to be sure that they are right.
There is also the advantage of writing exams at our own pace in a more relaxed environment. Look at this way. In a sit-down exam, there is always tension due to the time limit and preying eyes of supervisors. Some schools even have CCTV cameras in their halls. So students who don’t even have the intention to cheat are still unwilling to so much as blink because no one knows what might be mistaken for a attempt to cheat. Again, research has shown that quite a lot of students fail exams because they are just not fast enough. Such researches have proposed that time for completing exams be allotted based on learning abilities of the students, such that some many write within two hours but others may use more time. The educational system in Ghana has obviously not paid heed to this admonition. But, in this online exams, the barrier of tension and whole sale pace have been removed. Students can write their exams in the comfort of their homes at their own pace. Fellow students, (in the voice of Sarkodie) what else?
And I foresee lecturers marking scripts with more compassion, because, let’s face it, our lecturers are not so inhumane as to be blind to the emotional and psychological reality of the COVID19 and the havoc it’s raining on all of us. So the probability of more students doing well through this online exams is higher than writing face-to-face exams.
Aside these, there are other factors that the opposers to this online exams are not considering. One of such is the fact the internet is now a part of our world in such a profound way that we cannot but adapt and adopt. We, the young people of today are known in the tech language as digital natives; born, bred and living in the age of digitization. It is we who should be embracing moves such as online teaching and learning, which of course includes exams. It surprises me that people who, research has shown, spend 70% of their day online are the ones who are opposing online exams. The irony of it all is that all the complaints are being made online. Students re rejecting online exams online.
Another factor in this equation that most of the opposition to this motion lose track of is that not writing exams now (online) has repercussions. If University students don’t write exams now, it means that the semester will be considered as incomplete. Note that no student can graduate without completing their required duration (number of years and semesters) in school. Typically, what’ll happen is that the semester will be postponed. So for a level 300 student like myself who should graduate in 2021, because I couldn’t complete a (this) semester, I would have to graduate in 2022.
And again, there’s enough evidence for all to know that this COVID19 pandemic will not end in 2020. Even if the viral infections reduced, health experts have advised that social gathering like schools and religious gathering should be put on hold for the rest of 2020. It means that first semester of 2020/2021 academic year might start online. If the educational system does not migrate now, the whole academic year might have to be carried forward.
Now imagine the plans you have for your life, which are certainly based on when you would be graduating. Are you willing to hold on with exams now so that you graduate a year later than you should?
Have opposers to online exams considered the ripple effects? If we don’t write exams and graduate, there will not be enough space to admit more students. Which means that final year students in the Senior High School who should have entered the university this year or next year cannot do so. If they are delayed a year at home just because a certain year group in the university would not write online exams, social psychology will tell you that many who could have continued their education and become efficient and effective members of society would be unable to.
I remember fondly what happened in 2013 when two batches of high school students wrote their exams in the same year. Many bright minds had to cut their education short because the tertiary schools were overwhelmed. Many people from that group are now in the university when they should have completed years ago. We have an opportunity to change that narrative. Let’s not allow the history we all hate to repeat it self.
It is true that some (a few) students have genuine challenges accessing devices, internet and data connectivity which are basic necessities for digital participation. And for such students, managements of universities together with the Ghana Education Service and the Ministry of Education must, as a matter of urgency, provide for them. All students must be captured.
For those who argue that the pandemic is causing psychological problems to students, I ask you, how many students are frontline personnel. And are they so hard to find that exceptions cannot be made for them with respect to writing this exams? How many students have relatives who have been diagnosed of COVID19 and can’t they come forward to be helped? In any case, all documents from the universities have made allocations for students with such genuine problems.
I have spoken with three lectures who use WhatsApp and Google Classroom and they tell me that they record between 80% to 96% participation in their online lectures within 24 hours. The number of students who are disadvantaged in this online exams is very small. So they can easily be identified and a better option made available for them too.
To those who always mention the inadequacies of the E-Learning system, so far, I have yet to see, hear or read any statistics on how many students have been disenfranchised from the E-Learning. I, on the other hand, have just told you that majority of student s who are expected to take a course are able to do so within 24 hours of the class schedule, despite the issues of data and connectivity.
Therein lies the theory of the greater good. If majority of students are able to access the online lessons (despite the data issues), why can’t these students write the exams online, the same way they studied online?
And on the issue of understanding lessons, there is not any evidence to prove that online studies reduce ability of students to absorb lessons. Even in regular face-to-face classes, some students still don’t get lessons. But there is more than enough evidence that E-Learning facilitates teaching and learning. And I have seen students who never as much as smiled in face-to-face classes offer some amazing submissions in online classes.
In order for us to develop an online system that works better, we need to use what we have first. Then we can find the major challenges and fix them going forward. The systems we see working in other institutions and other countries are designed for those institutions in those countries and what we see today took years of correcting, redefining and re-engineering. If we want to be better, we have to take the plunge and we have to take it now.
The fundamental truth remains, however, that Ghana is at the bottom of the digital participation conversation. A lot more infrastructure has to be put in place by government and other regualtory bodies. But the question I ask those who say that the current system is not strong enough is this, if we don’t start now and brace through the challenges, how and when shall we improve? If the current generation is not willing to suffer to make the system better for the next generation, are we not being selfish and inward looking?
While we’re here debating online exams, students in other dispensations are discussing 5G and AI and Internet of Things. They are thinking about inventing the next mobile app that will storm the world. If we want to change Ghana and Africa and prove to the rest of the world that (in the voice of Kwame Nkrumah) “The African is capable of managing his own affairs”, then we must stop bickering and seeing too many problems but more solutions. And remember, not every solution is good enough. A solution must be sustainable and be for the greater good of society. Solutions must be generational.
Source: Efo Korku Mawutor | Student, Ghana Institute of Journalism