Mumbai University remains blind to exam woes of visually challenged students

With the University releasing schedules and venues at the last minute, visually challenged students are left looking for writers at the eleventh hour

Uncertainty over venues, a cumbersome documentation process and a general lack of empathy have left scores of visually disabled students at odds this exam season.

Writer Mrunali Khopkar at a practice session with SYBA student Archana Gosavi
Writer Mrunali Khopkar at a practice session with SYBA student Archana Gosavi

With just a week to go before their exams, several such students are still desperately searching for writers (those who transcribe answers dictated by the disabled student).

A discussion among visually challenged students about their fate and that of their writers
A discussion among visually challenged students about their fate and that of their writers

Sadhana Shinde, 19, a second year Bachelor of Arts whose Foundation Course exam is on May 17, is one such student. With a lot of time spent on looking for someone who will volunteer to be her writer, she has been unable to focus on preparing for the exam.

Amol Mane of Team Vision, a volunteer association which gives writers for special students, said it was high time authorities looked into technology to solve the problem
Amol Mane of Team Vision, a volunteer association which gives writers for special students, said it was high time authorities looked into technology to solve the problem

While Shinde has another week or so to find a writer, Pooja Yuvan, 18, who appeared for her First Year BA exam on Saturday managed to find one just a day before her first exam.

Yuvan said Mumbai University could learn from the school boards, which have allowed the use of older writers if a student cannot find a writer who is younger than them. Older writers are barred because they may know the subject matter better than the candidate and this could result in an unfair advantage.

“The facility of older writers is made available for students appearing for board examination (Std X and XII), but there are no clear instructions for higher examinations,” said Yuvan. “I am appearing for MU exams and they are still insisting on us having writers who are junior to us or are not from the same stream. Another problem is that the timetable and the exam venues are decided so late. When we ask people for help, their first and valid question is ‘when and where.’ We generally know the venue only a week before the exam, when the hall-tickets are issued. We thus have just a few days to look for a writer.”

These issues mean there is also no time for special students and their writers to get familiar with each other, something students say is essential. Further, not many junior students are available, as they are busy preparing for their own exams, which too happen around the same time. Ummehaani Bagasrawala, who has just finished her Third Year BA examinations, said there has also been a noticeable dip in the interest levels of people to help the visually challenged.

“There are no complaints against university or colleges per se,” said Bagasrawala. “But there is in general a dearth of people willing to volunteer as writers. Which is why it becomes important that the University makes things easier for us. If dates and centres are known in advance, it will be easier to arrange for writers. Further, the entire process of documentation is also frustrating. A writer has to be approved by submitting an official letter and photo Currently, the schedules are such that first and second-year students simultaneously appear for examination. How can they help? Then there is the other extreme — some of our exams are scheduled well into the regular summer vacation, and people are vacationing.”

Amol Mane of Team Vision, a volunteers association of six to seven people who appear as writers for special students, said it was high time authorities looked into technology to solve the problem. “We have been helping arrange for writers for the last three years,” said Mane, whose team collates a database of people willing to volunteer. “Besides school, college and university examinations, we also help candidates of competitive exams and job qualification exams. It is really difficult to find good writers these days. Authorities should start looking at new-age solutions and save students the trouble of all the last minute running around. Having worked with the visually challenged, I understand there will be initial hesitance to use technology. But once they get familiar with it, am sure they will embrace it.”

Summing up the issues, Archana Joshi, HOD (Education) at National Association for the Blind (NAB), said the ambiguous government regulations need to go and authorities need to change according to the times. “Recently, before board examination, the government issued an order allowing older writers. But there was no clarity on whether this applied for higher and lower classes too. The authorities are not aware of the needs of the stakeholders. The education minister once spoke about creating a pool of writers for the blind, but we have not heard anything about it as yet.”

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