Examinees “asked” to complete their three-hour practical paper in 30 minutes. Students “told” what the correct data should be, as they did not have the time — or equipment — to find out for themselves.
It all happened at the physics practical tests for first-semester students of the state’s youngest university, the West Bengal University of Technology.
The brand new university, which controls most of the state’s engineering and technical education institutions, has inadvertently introduced some new concepts — sharing equipment and time — thanks to a goof-up by its paper-setters.
The syllabus for the physics practical exam has around 15 experiments, of which about 11 have proper equipment. “No college in Calcutta, or anywhere in West Bengal, can afford to have all the sets in huge numbers,” a senior varsity official said.
“We, therefore, try to give as many options as possible so that students can be divided into groups and each student can be given one set to work on,” he added.
For example, if there are 30 examinees at a centre at a time, and there are 10 questions to be answered in the practical paper, an exam centre can make do with three sets of apparatus of 10 types. But, if there are five questions, each centre has to have six sets for each of the questions to avoid forcing students to share instruments — and answers.
Curiously, this simple rule was ignored during this semester’s practical examination. Only five questions (roughly, a third of the syllabus) were asked, putting the college authorities in a quandary.
A prominent college in Calcutta, for instance, prepared itself for the exam by putting on the table around 30 sets of apparatus; there were around three each of 10 topics, which the college authorities thought would be enough. But when the papers arrived, the authorities found to their consternation that there were only five questions on the paper. There were only 12 sets of apparatus that could be used for the exam and the number of candidates was more than double.
What followed was a farce. Students were asked to “share” the apparatus or leave the hall for an hour to allow everyone to complete the exam. “There was no other way,” a teacher said.
The scene was replayed at most of the 40-odd colleges under the new university. Many of the colleges did not have sufficient infrastructure to begin with and, ultimately, the examinees were told that their papers would be marked “leniently” to “prevent a law-and-order problem”, according to a senior official of the university.
West Bengal University of Technology’s controller of examinations Dilip Bhattacharya admitted that he was aware of the problem. “The incident has been brought to my notice, but there was nothing I could do to retrieve the situation,” he told Metro.
“But we have decided to ask our paper-setters and moderators to keep in mind the situation on the ground level when they are setting questions,” Bhattacharya added.