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Digital Education 2017-08-11

Digital test assessment imperative for a truly ‘Digital India’

While scepticism mares Modi Government’s vision to make all critical exams and skill assessment tests digital, there is a window of opportunity for the private sector to utilise the data for their recruitment; and help cut the costs associated with talent....

While scepticism mares Modi Government’s vision to make all critical exams and skill assessment tests digital, there is a window of opportunity for the private sector to utilise the data for their recruitment; and help cut the costs associated with talent hunt, writes Shrutidhar Paliwal, Vice President, Aptech Ltd.

The news and subsequent discussions about cheating in exams (whether school or any competitive one) in India follows a cyclical trend. Concerned parents, academicians and the society at large discuss it for a while before falling into a “chalta hain” attitude. However, on the 11th Civil Services Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated his dream of a digital India, asking the industry to adapt to changing working conditions; especially, with the inception of social media, e-governance, and the decade-old clamour from the public for more transparency.

This acute need of transparency is also raises an important concern: Are we unconsciously promoting and propagating falling standards in education by showing inertia towards the switch to digital assessment?

The uniform traditional system of testing and assessing does not hold true to the requirements of the ever changing industry. In the past, the education system faced a challenge of ‘the changing definition of knowledge’ and the government relied on the private education sector to fill the skill gap – this led to preference of quantity over quality. The existing paradox where the country reels under the twin troubles of unemployment and lack of skilled workforce is due to the prevalent style of education in the country that has cramming as the key learning objective.

Millions of youth are being added to the employment pool today and a one size fits all approach is outdated due to the changing industry requirements. Thus a unique system to test every individual on pure merit needs to be implemented across levels.

Digital test assessment can play an effective gatekeeper to the professional world -- permitting the most credible candidates to enter the pool of resources, and highlighting key areas of improvement for the candidates who fail to meet the employment criteria.

Panacea to transparency worries

Albeit, the country was a late entrant in the field, the growth pace is inspiring. Experts predict the online test assessment market to grow exponentially in the next few years to become a multibillion market.

With the determination to walk the talk, the government has at least two instances to prove the merit of adopting computer based test and assessment. One, several private colleges are already using results of government entrance examinations for engineering and medical colleges for admissions. In fact, the government envisions moving all entrances examinations to the digital space. Two, the world’s largest recruitment examination was held by the Indian Railways recently to fill over 18000 vacancies. An astounding 96 lakh applicants had submitted their candidature. Similarly, Mahagenco, the largest state-owned utility company, also conducted a digital test and assessment to fill 650 vacancies that saw participation from over one lakh applicants.

To top it up, the decision to encourage sharing of scores obtained by candidates in recruitment examinations conducted by government and PSUs with India Inc is a step in the right direction. Such a move will not only drastically bring down the cost of talent hunting but will also create a positive externality. The Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering 2017 (GATE) held in February could have been a great place to start. But the fact that even after over a year since the announcement, no considerable progress has been made to connect with India Inc is disappointing.

The challenge, however, is to thaw existing perception over the transparency of such tests. Previously, several competitive exams have been marred by controversies over cheating or proxy testing – a large number of these though were associated with the traditional paper based exams. It is a legacy of distrust that needs to be broken. Therefore, in order to earn the acceptance of the India Inc, these tests need to clear the test barometer. This was a challenge a few years back; but not anymore.

Thanks to big data and analytics, today, designing a unique question paper for each candidate is not a mammoth task. In fact, it is now possible to design question papers which will not just be unique for each candidate but will never be repeated in the history of the exam in question.

The traditional test assessment was inherited with lacunas that made it time consuming, prone to cheating and fraud, and was neither scalable nor sustainable. Digital assessment has been able to continuously score better on each parameter year on year. Computer-based testing is the best way to eliminate the scope for human error or bias in grading answers and, hence, improves the quality and reliability of the test. The biggest advantage, though, is that turnaround time has declined drastically.

It makes for a great business case that the cost of hiring can be made inversely proportional to the quantum of talent, while keeping high standards of transparency and ethics. Like most government initiatives, the guideline from the Modi government to move all PSU tests to digital form to ensure greater transparency and encourage the private sector to utilise the data was initially marred with scepticism. But technology has proved that the prime ministers vision is not a proverbial chimera. It is to be seen whether India Inc will eventually get convinced or not. 

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