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Make use of technology

Arcot Purna Prasad May 7, 2016, 0:07 IST

The traditional system to get faculty members to prepare question papers now needs to be replaced with a technology-driven process.

The PUC question paper leak that rocked Karnataka makes it necessary to review the Department of Pre-University Education’s examination management system (EMS). A crucial component of the EMS is question paper management which involves 3 stages: generation of questions, production or printing of question papers (QPs), and finally their distribution to the district treasuries for onward movement to the exam centres. The entire exercise is closely monitored by education department officials to ensure confidentiality.

The traditional QP management without use of digital technology to prepare, distribute and store question papers is fraught with danger of leaks. The 3 stages at which QPs could possibly leak are the paper setting, printing and distribution stages. At the first stage are the question paper setters, chairman of the board of exams and next is the printing stage.
The absence of electronic surveillance cameras in the printing press proves to be another problem area. Next, the QPs are put into packets which contain 24 copies each for dispatch to the exam centres. At the distribution stage which involves transportation and storage of QPs across multiple locations around Karnataka, scope arises again for leakage.

Evidently, the fact that multiple QP leaks which occurred only proves an inability to ensure confidentiality in the EMS. How was confidentiality of the question paper ensured in the pre-digital era? Clearly, the use of the digital medium enabled easier dissemination of the question paper leak. While wrong doers have used digital technology to leak the question paper, the examination body has not used similar technology in the question paper process.

Today for each subject, 9 lecturers or question paper setters who teach the same subject are identified and brought to the Department of PUE and under close supervision, are made to set the question paper to ensure confidentiality. These 9 lecturers are trifurcated into 3 groups and each group provides 3 sets of question papers from which only 3 question papers are randomly selected and sent for bulk printing to a private press. Of these 3 sets, one set is used for the March/April exam and other sets are used for subsequent supplementary exams.

The printed QPs are then dispatched from a central node to tertiary centres spread across the length and breadth of the state. To do so, the examination body uses government vehicles, besides hiring private vehicles like cars, jeeps and tempos which have to ply along both urban and rural roads to deliver the QP bundles to 1,250 locations.

In the district headquarters, these bundles are stored at the district treasuries for safe-keeping 3 to 4 days before the commencement of examinations. A few hours prior to the examination, these bundles are brought to the examination centres. Each sealed bundle of QPs is opened in front of students after the invigilator obtains two students’ signatures.

Around 6 lakh students take the PUC exam annually from 3 types of PUC colleges – independent colleges, bifurcated colleges (bifurcated from degree colleges) and composite colleges which are attached to schools. In all, there are 4,322 PUC colleges across the state.

In 1971, the Board of Pre University Education was established to cater to a relatively smaller student community. Then a Joint Director Public Education based in Mysore and another one in Bangalore administered the EMS for several thousands of students across the state.

In the mid 1990s, each of the 21 districts in the state at that time had a Deputy Director Public Instruction. However, Karnataka has over the years transformed tremendously which is evident from the increased population and prosperity. The state which has evolved into an education destination attracts students from all over the country.

Heightened requirements
To cater to these heightened requirements, a number of schools have proliferated in the state. Today, the Department of Pre University Education has to cope with over 6 lakh student strength while the organisational structure has not really transformed to keep pace with the growing requirement.

Clearly, the use of technology to generate question papers could prove useful to avoid leakages in future. The traditional system to get faculty members to prepare question papers now needs to be replaced with a technology driven process. One such process is the Question Bank (QB) software which is a suitable tool to generate question papers through random selection of questions. To create a QB, teachers first have to generate a large pool of questions which are then partially updated annually.

These questions are designed to be simple, medium and complex in character and marks. A unique feature of the QB software is that it aims to enhance unpredictability in a question paper. The QB software randomly selects questions to generate a question paper after it is programmed to select simple, medium and complex questions. Interestingly, even the person who gives the computer the command to generate the QP cannot see its contents/questions.

For the technology-driven QB system to succeed, the state government has to ensure uninterrupted power supply and internet connectivity across the length and breadth of Karnataka. Considering that 1,250 PU examination centres are located in urban/semi-urban/rural areas, this is a pre-requisite.

The only other investment necessary are desktop computers and high speed printers at the multiple examination centres. The QP would be generated a few hours prior to the exam and e-mailed to each centre which has to independently print the QPs for distribution to students. While technology strengthens the QP management system, the human factor remains supreme to ensure confidentiality.

(The writer is Associate Professor, Institute of Management, Christ University, Bengaluru)

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