Standing on dais to address the bureaucrats on the 11th Civil Services Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed on a very pertinent point: the need to adapt to changing working conditions with the inception of social media, e-governance, and other projects under the government’s digital Indian scheme. The thrust has stemmed from the decade-old clamour by the public for transparency.
This acute need of transparency is also what has resulted in a steady transition of the education and recruitment sector to adopt digital or online test assessment. Albeit, the country was a late entrant in the field, the growth pace is inspiring.
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 lead to quantity over quality. The existing paradox where the country reels under the twin troubles of unemployment and lack of skilled workforce are due to the prevalent style of education 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Millions of youth are being added to the employment pool today and a one size fits all approach is outdated due to the changing industry requirements.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. Test assessment should be considered as a 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.
With the determination to walk the talk, the government has at 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 candidate.
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.
Moreover, 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 quality 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 minister's vision is not a proverbial chimera. It is to be seen whether India Inc will eventually get convinced or not.
The writer is a tech visionary, Executive Vice President and heads the Enterprise Business at global training conglomerate Aptech Ltd.