This article has been written by Dr. Sharmila Ghuge.
In March 2020 when the COVID-19 lockdown was announced, none of us had even a trivial indication about the forthcoming changes in teaching-learning methodology. From April 2020, a new saga began in every teacher’s life with virtual classrooms. Undoubtedly, the virtual classrooms unlocked new avenues with the enthralling experience of teaching and learning from any corner of the world. The freshly fostered enthusiasm of students towards virtual learning was adorable in the first couple of weeks. However, the exuberant celebration of virtual learning did not survive for a longer period. It was soon realized that students log in for lectures and disappear! The teacher stretches his/her vocal cords continuously for hours together, without realizing that he/she is probably investing his/her valuable time, tremendous efforts and electrifying energy solely speaking and explaining the concepts to his/her own laptop screen!!
Despite the devastating consequences of the monstrous COVID-19 pandemic, this global crisis has given us an extraordinary opportunity for innovative learning with the advent of virtual platforms. Nonetheless, one needs to ponder upon the fact whether the virtual classroom has changed the role of teachers??
Let me be more specific and shed some light on the factual position of law teachers in the city of Mumbai. In the month of May-June 2020, we received circulars from the University of Mumbai to conduct online examinations in accordance with the direction of the Hon’ble State Government. We all geared up for the examination to the best of our abilities and to date, we invariably continue to do the same with immense passion towards our profession. With due regards to the Government Authorities and the policymakers, it is not merely enough to declare the mode of examination but it also requires proper guidance and directions for execution of the same. Unfortunately, the University of Mumbai has left the decision to all colleges to choose their respective online platforms to conduct examinations. Consequently, law colleges have chosen suitably convenient platforms such as Webex, Google forms, Microsoft teams, Zoom, etc.
Role of teachers
Moreover, there is no uniformity regarding the role of teachers in conducting examinations. In physical examination, it is an established practice that the Faculty is assigned his/her role of paper set in accordance with the subject of expertise, submission of the paper (hard copy) to the University, proofreading, being physically present in the control room, if the paper setter is the chairperson, supervising the examination, preparing the examination reports, thereafter, assessment of the papers.
Now, let us take a glance at the online examination methodology, which is executed in a hybrid manner questioning the role of a law teacher. For the online examination, if we consider an example of Microsoft teams, this is what a teacher lands up doing as her examination work, question paper setting, 20 MCQs for 30 marks and 10 descriptive for 30 marks, then, translation of papers in Marathi, then, creation of MS forms, which needs copy-paste line by line from the question paper, select the correct answer, add marks to the question, adjust the settings with date, time, responses receipt, etc. Thereafter, schedule the assignments on Teams, then schedule the meeting link. This is followed by the MCQ pattern, another long journey for the descriptive papers which further has two modes-typing and scan and upload answer sheets. Creation of Google links, downloading excel sheets, then comes the task of assessment and submission of marks to colleges.
Outsourcing IT services
Well to cut the long story short, it is interesting to note that few law colleges have outsourced IT services to assist the teachers on the technical front to conduct examinations, where the teachers are simply required to set question papers and hand it to the IT team, rest is taken care of by them. A few law colleges have trained their non-teaching/administrative staff to handle the technical part of the examination, again in this scenario too, the teachers hand over the question papers to the staff.
Teachers as IT technicians
Whereas, some law colleges have neither outsourced IT personals nor trained the non-teaching/administrative staff and have royally transformed the teachers into IT technicians! Amazingly, for more than a year now, law teachers are not only paper setters and examiners but have successfully metamorphosed themselves into IT technicians, handling the online examinations. It is an ongoing journey of more learning for a teacher rather than the students! And yes, not to forget, with this IT learning, the teachers are also experiencing nightmares: what if the paper goes live at the wrong time, stressful thoughts–what if the student’s response is not submitted so on and so forth. Law teachers are academically equipped to teach law in the best possible manner they can, but unfortunately, were not trained to be IT personals during their education and teaching years in the past.
Apart from the university examination, there is total chaos regarding the internal components conducted by various law colleges in Mumbai as per their choice and convenience due to the online mode. Some colleges are conducting 40 marks internals for a single project, few are taking various components as mentioned in the manual of the University of Mumbai. Again, the colleges following all components of manual with the online mode has added on the technical constrained and strained expertise of the law teachers.
Teacher’s plight during the pandemic
We are all sailing through a tough phase and so the law teachers have kept their calm and have been working as law teachers cum IT technicians without any break or holiday for the last one year. This phase of lockdown in India has been work from home for millions of people bringing smiles on their faces for the quality time spent with family. However, in case of law teachers, it has been an atrocious year, with the continuous lectures for all semester, one after the other, no term breaks at all, continuous examinations with the University exam, practical exams, the internals and then the assessment. The law teachers are entitled for 10 weeks’ vacation in one academic year as per the norms of the University Grants Commission. But no law teacher has taken any break due to the COVID-19 situation. We don’t expect applause for law teachers but at least acknowledge the efforts!
Problems with the current examination pattern
Despite the unrelenting efforts of law teachers, are we yielding the fruits of what we are sowing? Are we contributing towards making good lawyers for this country?? Or are we lowering the academic standards of legal education??
These are a few interrogative concerns boggling over a law teacher’s mind. It is highly imperative to point out that the examination pattern presently followed is absolutely not favourable for qualitative legal education. In the last academic year as we had no idea about the pandemic hitting so hard and consequently, the University was compelled to go ahead with multiple-choice questions and a few descriptive questions. This method is totally unfeasible in furtherance of quality legal education which is the basic motive of the Indian Government and the Bar Council of India.
It is in the interest of the legal education that the examination even if it has to be conducted via online mode, question papers should be based on situational problems, which will test the knowledge of law students and not the memory as it is the case in MCQ format. It is also witnessed that a huge number of students are using unfair means and getting answers through Google for all MCQ and the descriptive questions are seen with copy paste answers. If the question papers are based on situational problems, it can contribute not only in testing erudition of law students for applicability of legal provisions but shall curtail the copy paste trend mushrooming at an alarming stride with the virtual examinations.
As a law teacher, I wish concerned authorities gain the wisdom to lay down a strategy with a meticulous plan for the next academic year to systematize the irregularities encountered in the last academic year. It is highly unexpected to continue in this fashion, which is encouraging law students to score 90-100 % marks due to MCQ paper pattern and with aid and assistance of unfair means in most of the cases.
Such mode and pattern of examination is laying a weak foundation for the justice system of this country by producing lawyers with no legal aptitude. The impact of COVID-19 and the spread of this deadly virus may have few more waves to come and so it is intellectually advisable to have an enlightened vision of the forthcoming years and improvise upon our mistakes. My trepidation is not one-sided that the teachers are transformed into IT technicians but it is a strong apprehension that such a method of examination will hamper the future of legal education and legal profession in the longer run.
Law teachers have happily accepted to be IT technicians in the interest of the students but is this transformation constructive for producing eminent law graduates?
Think! Think! Think!
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