New Delhi: In recent years, India has seen a massive revolution toward adopting digital solutions in education and recruitment sectors. With the current government's focus on transforming the country into a digital hub, there is suddenly more emphasis toward transforming the entrance, recruitment and academic assessment processes. NDTV recently had the opportunity to speak to Venguswamy Ramaswamy, Global Head TCS iON. TCS iON is the platform for many recruitment, entrance, and academic assessment examinations which are being conducted in India. Mr. Ramaswamy graciously enlightened about the various aspects of digitalizing these sectors including the challenges encountered, benefits of such an endeavor and also helped dispel some common myths.
Q. How does digitalizing a school classroom help? Is India ready for digital classrooms?
It is very difficult to say whether India is ready because India is too big. But I should say that post the digital development given by the current government, India is predominantly ready for digital classroom for sure. Several parts of India are now connected with Fiber network and hence the country is absolutely ready. Having said that there are still parts of North-East and the interior parts of country where there are still hurdles in making sure that digital classrooms are ready.
But it is important to understand in this context what a digital classroom is all about. It is nothing but ability to access content on the job and having an infrastructure to use that in teaching a classroom, that's all there is. Digital classroom is not something hypothetical which cannot be imagined. It just means a projector, a computer and a very strong network.
So India is predominantly ready and we are seeing it in the most parts of the country. Even in scenarios where we are having challenges, we work with the network operators. If this question was asked 2 years or 5 years back I would definitely have said that India was not ready but I believe that now India is very much ready for the transition.
Q. What are the factors involved when conducting a recruitment exam online?
We do three kinds of assessments - Academic Competitive assessment (CAT, GATE, CLAT etc.), Recruitment exams (Police recruitment, high court recruitment etc.), and Promotional exams (internal exams). There are five factors involved. One to conduct an online exam a robust, enabled digital platform is required. People use the word online but online means conducting exam on the internet. The exam is conducted on a computer and while exam is being conducted, a system cannot be connected to the internet.
Number two, you need high quality content which is nothing but questions and questions. Large number of problems arises out of ambiguous nature of questions. Because of this every student interprets questions differently. Most of the questions which are asked today are memory-based than being application based in nature.
Third one is you need robust infrastructure. There are one crore candidates who have appeared for these exams in the past decade. You need that many computers in several shifts across the country.
Fourth one is a strong set of processing - processing the application, releasing the admit card, conducting the exam, processing and releasing the result, demonstrating the responses. So there is a strong set of processing required.
Because these assessments are conducted on a national level you need local people. We need people who will help conduct the examination at the local centres.
These are the five components which are very critical to conducting a successful online examination.
Q. Why is a computer-based test better than paper-based test apart from the obvious reason of preventing paper leak? Do you believe the computer based exam glitch free from hacking and all?
First of all I must tell you that it is a myth that a computer-based examination cannot be compromised. The reason being it is a human being who sets the question, it is not a computer. But having said that in a computer based test even though the question is being set and entered into the system by a human, nobody actually knows which question is going to be used in order to set the question paper. So the risk of paper leak is minimalized. But in a computer based test there are other set of issues for example, what happens when the exam is going on and the power goes off, what happens when the exam is going on and someone pulls the network cable or the router or the switch which connects all the computer systems at an exam centre goes bad. These are other kinds of glitches which can happen. However, if you have a very robust system and infrastructure we can reduce some of the obvious problems. For example TCS provides a Diesel Generator set at all the exam centres so that when the power goes off there is power backup immediately available. These are all things one has to do to conduct a successful exam. Even after doing all of these things, if there is still a problem, what we do is start the exam at the same time, at the same level.
Q. What are the problems you face when conducting online exam for any vertical?
There are three issues - power issue, network related breakdown, candidate disruption for example a candidate puts mobile inside his trouser and enters the exam hall or when exam is going on and candidate creates some noise because the exam paper is tough. There are processes and mechanisms to deal with all these things.
Q. What are the common mistakes, candidates make when appearing for an online exam? What should a candidate remember when appearing for an online exam?
First of all the most number of candidates make the same mistake that is they don't bring proper identification documents to the exam centre. Second is when the students give biometric they do not take proper care in giving biometric. While giving biometrics, you have to use your fingers properly and if not done properly, your prints would not match at a later stage. So candidates need to be very careful. The third thing is candidates are not tested for using a computer; they are tested for the subject knowledge. So they should practice the use of screen before they come for the exam and there are mock exams available for every exam conducted on the internet. Every information is available. Apart from this there is no such difference between online and offline exam. In fact in online exam you have much better flexibility as you can go to any question, correct any answer at any stage. In offline exam you do not have the flexibility to correct an answer which you have marked on the OMR sheet.
Q. In your experience, how has the digital space changed for education and job recruitment? Do you see any change in the old Indian behavior of time taking recruitment process?
This is a re-imagination which TCS has done. In the last few years of coming into this domain we thought to ourselves how should we disturb this whole process of recruitment and academic assessment and ensure high quality. What used to happen earlier, if a board decides to do recruitment exam they had to make a policy, they had to take approval from the competent authorities, then they have to do question paper discussion with a number of professors. All of them would prepare questions and send them to the board. They would get the questions typed and then give it to a printer. The printer would print it, and then the questions would be distributed into different question sets. Meanwhile applications had to be collected, exam dates had to be declared, then exam had to be conducted then all the OMR sheets had to be collected, scanned. Then the output had to be evaluated and result to be generated. These were all the steps involved in the process.
Now, what has happened is everything is one the cloud, the question paper is on the cloud. Everything is digital. There is no dispatching of the question paper for printing. Those processes are gone. Today, if a board wants, it can conduct the exam and publish the result in less than 30 days. Having said that, even today a board takes longer time because of the transition and transformation that the country is going through. But ideally this process should get settled and we should see many government departments and any recruitment bodies declaring results at a rapid speed. For example IBPS which conducts all the major banking recruitment exams is running on our platform. They declare the result very fast that is because of the digitization that has happened in the whole process of recruitment.
The old behavior I won't say has completely changed but it is in the right direction.
Q. What are the projects you have undertaken in the field of education?
We are the largest platform in the world in terms of the number of candidates we assess and currently we are assessing 30 million candidates on a year to year basis. Our country has a huge number of assessments to be done and hence the opportunity is manifold.
In the field of education, first of all, for every of our institute we are doing academic assessment like CLAT, GATE and other such examinations.
Second we are very large in the space of learning. Because we are digitizing the content and making the classroom a digital classroom or what we call as a hybrid classroom. We are doing lot of work in digitizing the entire education process from admission to academic to promotion to library to transportation to accounts to HR to finance; all of these aspects within education domain are being digitized.
We are also doing a lot of projects on examination management right from announcing the exam, to collecting application, conducting the semester exam all these things are done by us as part of exam management process. Then we are doing lot of work in providing the certificate in a digital form. So now many institutes issue digital certificates for example IIM Kozhikode issues digital certificates and this can be stored in your Digital Locker and anybody can verify it at any point in time. Those are the kind of projects we are doing right now in the field of education.
Q. What are the expenses involved in digitalizing a classroom/conducting a computer-based exam?
Digitizing a classroom just needs a projector, a computer, a strong network and access to content. The expense depends upon how good a projector you have and how good and vast the content you want. In case of conducting a computer-based exam it is very easy these days. Per candidate anywhere between 300 Rs to 700 Rs is spent and it is typically a percentage of student fee. It is very simple because all of those activities are done by TCS and the difference in the expense or a range is because some board may want biometrics, some board may want CCTV, some board may want content for town planning, these are all personalized subjects. But it is all done on a model which requires only a percentage of the student fee.
Q. What measures do you take to ensure privacy of a candidate's data?
First of all, there's no different setting for online exam and offline exam because in any exam they apply, it is called application management. There are many agencies which make a mistake of storing those data in an online concept form which is normally the mistake the agencies or the board does it. For example any data collected from a candidate is stored in an encrypted form. So when you store data in an encrypted form it is not possible for anybody to access it without crossing some security level. As long as they are doing it, there is no risk of data privacy breach. I recently read a story where data of students was available in return for cash. This is all happening because agencies are not encrypting data.
Q. What about the 'frisking guidelines'? How strictly do you follow it?
First of all there is a large set of discussion which is going on about the frisking guidelines. There are two kinds of frisking which is done. First is frisking of the body parts in which case there is a separate enclosed area for females where the security personnel check if there is any item in their body which is not allowed in the exam centre for example a Bluetooth device or a mobile phone.
Second these handheld devices which are used to check the candidates. That is another type of frisking. Obviously the body parts are checked but there are certain places in a male and female body which one cannot pat. And today the candidates have become more sophisticated in hiding those devices on their body. Then the frisking becomes weaker and such issues come up or controversies come up.
Due to religious beliefs for example you cannot ask a Sikh candidate to remove their turban or there are certain caste and religions which have certain types of attire. These are some issues which are there and now board is looking to solving these issues one by one.
What such candidates should do is come ahead of the exam time and should be willing to go through a detailed process of checking or frisking before they are allowed entry into the centre.
We follow it strictly but I agree that in one of the locations there might be a lapse because we have to monitor strictly through processing and that's how it is done today. But we do have a strictly detailed process for frisking for each candidate including guidelines for how do you frisk a candidate from a certain religion or caste etc. These are the things which we advise our clients on.
Q. TCS-iON recently managed the CLAT exam and there were complaints from students about exam centre location and that the exam was not conducted in a fair manner. What do you have to say about it?
If you take a city and take a look at the colleges in the city, there are colleges which are at the boundary of a city. The number of colleges which serve as a centre are very less and particularly the engineering colleges with proper infrastructure for conducting the exam are very less. If you want to conduct an online exam, you as a board need to be prepared to improve the standards of the nearby colleges to conduct the exam which is not going to happen overnight and this must be accepted as a fact. So when we conduct an exam we tell our clients how we will accommodate the students because the advantages of an online exam is very many and we need to adjust on certain issues.
Second is one of the success factors for an online exam is high quality content. In case of CLAT the conducting body CNLU decided to create the content themselves. So whatever I saw most of the controversy that is there in the media about CLAT exam is about the quality of the questions which was the onus of the conducting body.
Third for every candidate in every exam centre we have click by click log available so there is no question of anybody saying that it was not done in transparency because we can reproduce every click by the candidate in the court. In general you have to accept whenever a candidate believes that the exam was tough or the questions were ambiguous we have to manage accordingly. We are the only organization which provides RTI support. If the need be we can reproduce click by click log for any candidate for the board, not for the candidate but for the board. So to answer your question, I believe that the exam was conducted in a fair manner.
About TCS iON
TCS iON provides various digital platforms not only to education bodies but also provides self-learning assistance to students appearing for competitive examinations for higher studies and recruitment. It offers solutions for all educational processes such as digital campus, digital learning, digital exams, digital marking, in-course assessment, digital records, prep tests and digital assessments. TCS-iON has been working with multiple education bodies both at state and national level along with many known organisations for recruitment.