Scribe shortage for visually impaired college students in Chennai leads to increasing worry

Dr Sivaraman, an Associate Professor at Presidency College, suggested that there should be a common government portal for scribes, so as to make it easier to provide scribes to the students
File photo of Presidency College | (Pic: Express)
File photo of Presidency College | (Pic: Express)

Visually impaired college students in Chennai faced a hard time a couple of days back due to a shortage of scribes during their semester exams. The situation worsened so much as to incite a written advertisement from the city’s Presidency College calling for scribes, which was recently circulated on social media.

A report on the matter by IANS also mentioned that a senior professor from St John's College, located at Tirunelveli in Chennai, informed about the college's difficulty in procuring scribes, even though there are only 17 visually impaired students who need them. The college did not conduct any exams for the last two years and, prior to that, they did not face this problem because research scholars used to assist the visually impaired students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Speaking about it to EdexLive, Dr V Sivaraman, Associate Professor in English at Presidency College, explains the issue at large.

“Our college has the highest number of visually impaired students in Chennai. There are about 100 visually challenged students, studying in English, Tamil, History and Political Science Departments at both UG and PG levels. Two years ago, we used to have M Phil and PhD scholars who used to act as scribes for these students. Since we have a large number of research programmes here, we never faced any shortage of scribes. But this year, the M Phil course has been done away with and none of the departments had any PhD scholars or students to spare. So we had to outsource scribes,” he said.

Problems persists across colleges
“The problem is not only for our college. Queen Mary's College and Nandanam Arts College are the two other government colleges in Chennai with a large number of visually impaired students. A shortage of scribes is being faced everywhere and we have to get volunteers from the outside,” Dr Sivaraman stated.

The professor also said that the scribe allowance given to the volunteers was not enough. “The school education department pays an amount of Rs 300 to a scribe for writing the Class X or XII Board exams. This is the standard amount sanctioned by the government. But the colleges pay a meagre amount of Rs 100 to the scribes. This amount is also paid from the students' fee, whereas it should be paid by the government,” he said.

Dr Sivaraman suggested that there should be a common government portal for scribes, where the exam timetable needs to be posted in advance by at least 15 days, so as to make it easier for the colleges to provide volunteers to the students in need. The State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities needs to create such a portal and look into the issue. “We require 30-35 scribes on an average per day during the exams. And the same volunteers cannot come every day,” he added.

The IANS report stated that only 15-20 students needed scribes to write in English, while the rest of the students were writing the exams in Tamil. However, most of the available scribes were comfortable in writing in English. Prof Sivaraman also informed, “When we call volunteers, they come in plenty during the holidays. Sometimes there is a surplus. But there is a shortage on working days.”

The most vital point
“The most important thing is that the people at the head, including the Principal and Controller of Examinations, must be sensitised about the needs of the visually impaired students. They have to understand their difficulties. Very often when we have approached the people at the head regarding the scribe issue, they have reflected a casual attitude towards the problem,” the professor said.

“There is also an absence of visually impaired teachers and representatives in the colleges. In Presidency College, there are six visually impaired teachers. I am visually impaired myself. We coordinate with the authorities regarding the problems faced by the visually impaired students. The colleges need to be sensitised and approach us, seek our advice on these matters. We have to be involved in decisions,” he added.

Concluding, Dr Sivaraman says, “The long-term solution is that computer literacy has to be available to the visually impaired students so that they can type their own answers. But the current infrastructure in the colleges is not sufficient to support this.”

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