AI scare: Why TN’s Class 12 students don’t want online board exams
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AI scare: Why TN’s Class 12 students don’t want online board exams

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The Tamil Nadu government’s postponement of Class 12 board exams due to the COVID-19 situation in the state, has left students and parents in a fix. Even though the teaching fraternity which has welcomed the move, has urged the government to conduct online exams instead, students fear they may encounter a similar predicament faced by engineering students of Anna University.

Students in second, third and final years of engineering of Anna University, who sat for online semester exams in November-December 2020, were in for a rude shock when the strict exam rules prohibited them from even shaking their heads. Students were also asked not to have any noise in the backdrop and ensure an utter absence of movement in the room they were taking their exams in. The exams were conducted with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

When the university announced the results a couple of days ago, many students were shocked to find theirs withheld. Out of nearly 4 lakhs students who appeared for the exams, results of about 1.5 lakh students were withheld.

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The university said the students whose results have been withheld have violated the exam rules, meaning they either shook their head, and had voices and movement in the background. Many students say such rules are difficult to adhere to in rural areas where students live with their families and do not have a private space or room of their own.

The university has said that their results have been withheld for the time being, since ‘double checking’ process is underway to ascertain whether the students have really indulged in malpractice or if there is some incomplete processing of results.

It is to be noted that usually the results are withheld in case of non-payment of fees or suspicion of malpractice in exams. But students complain that the results of even studious students have been withheld.

Last year, the state government ordered ‘all pass’ and cancelled all the exams including arrears. The government, however, said that students who have arrears in their final year must take the online exams. A case was filed against the government’s decision in the Madras High Court. The court observed that students can’t be promoted without writing exams and cancelled the government’s order. Finally the exams, originally scheduled in November-December 2020, were conducted in February 2021.

“This case itself has taken almost a year. Although we got selected in some campus interviews as the government’s earlier order did away with arrears, we are now unable to join our jobs as we need to write the exam and clear all papers after the court order. Some of the companies are not ready to accept the candidates who were selected because of that case,” said Vicky, a student in Trichy district who just gave his arrear exams and is one of the students whose results have been withheld.

Vicky said the AI gave warnings even over the sound of the ceiling fan or a passing vehicle during the exam. “These were recorded as malpractice. So the double checking is needed,” he added.

It is in this backdrop that students of Class 12 and their parents are wary about online exams are they fear the same kind of rules will be followed in this format.

“Leave aside parents. First of all as students, we are not interested in taking online exams. It doesn’t provide the feel that we experience while writing the exam in our schools. We feel safer and confident while taking the exams offline,” said Divya, a Class 12 student based in Tiruvarur district.

“It is hard to keep up the speed and difficult to attempt all the questions within the time limit, as many lack the required typing speed and have slow internet connection,” she added.

PK Ilamaran, president, Tamil Nadu Teachers Association said they have demanded online examination just to satisfy the students and their parents.

“Instead of being postponed, if the exams are conducted online, it would be a huge relief for the parents and the students. Otherwise both of them will be under stress and unable to concentrate on other things. Since exams like qualifying NEET require students to pass board exams, it is imperative to conduct it online” he said.

When asked about stringent exam rules set by AI, Ilamaran said the school education department won’t go to such an extent.

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“Anna University comes under higher education. So the rules were harder. But board exams come under school education department. We hope they won’t put such kind of rules and restrictions. We even have recommended that instead of asking questions which are descriptive in nature, setting objective-type question papers will make the students more comfortable in taking the online exams,” he said.

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