A go-green initiative for examinations
By Yakuta Dawood
Have you ever noticed that even though we have been told time and again to not waste paper in order to save trees, we yet follow the traditional method of paper-based examinations? Numerous pages are wasted this way, as it’s just used on a single occasion by a single person.
As such, there have been many individuals and organisations across the world trying to initiate a sustainable solution to this. Yes, as you would have guessed by now, the solution is to conduct examinations through a technological device.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, almost all education systems across the world have shifted from traditional to digital platforms for schooling and also for conducting term and annual examinations. This shift has its own pros and cons for all the stakeholders involved, especially students.
One such platform catering to students sitting for their examinations across a few Asian countries is edXbee. The Develop It Yourself (DIY) column this week spoke to Aerial Aerodrome Aviation Academy Chief Operating Officer (COO) and edXbee Vice President Milan Chandrasekera, who launched the first-ever web-based examination solution for its students in 2019.
Expressing the uniqueness of the online examination platform, Chandrasekera said that it will not just save paper, money for printing paper, and on rented space for examination halls, but it will also ensure that a sustainable environment is created for the future generation.
“There is no point of giving exams to a child, when, on the other side of the field, you’re contributing to the carbon footprint. Hence the reason why this product had come into play – sustainability. It is a go-green initiative, as education is very important and should not be hindered due to any external barriers,” Chandrasekera said.
The birth of edXbee
Aerial Aerodrome Aviation Academy is an Indian company that initially conducted an internal web-based examination. However, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the globe, Chandrasekera and the team thought of expanding their product to those who do not have the access to or the facility of conducting a proper examination.
Hence, as examinations become a major concern during the Covid-19 lockdowns, edXbee developed and deployed a secure platform where an institute can conduct cheat-proof examinations for their students from the safety and comfort of their own homes.
According to him, it took about six to eight months to enhance and develop the web-based solution for platforms like schools/private institutes and college/universities whilst adapting and abiding by the Indian Government’s regulations.
“We had the advantage of introducing the web-based solution to all in March 2020, as we had already been using this platform internally from early 2019. Therefore, we just had to enhance the product while adapting to the local rules and regulations,” he added.
Furthermore, with regards to the investment rate for establishing edXbee to schools and institutions for the Indian market, Chandrasekera highlighted that a total of INR 16,000,000 was spent up to date, keeping on account the salaries paid to developers, the development cost, etc.
Why is it a web-based examination platform?
The answer to this question is safety. Chandrasekera stated even though developing an application is far cheaper than establishing a high-end quality web-based product, they went ahead with the web-based examination platform to benefit the students.
“If you install a mobile application, it will ask permission to access the gallery, directory, and all other irrelevant information, which could basically act as a spy and release sensitive information from the device.
“So, how could we ask the students to abide by the terms and conditions implemented by the company? It is not right to ask a minor to sign contracts. This is why we implemented the web-based solution for compatibility and safety reasons. It can be accessed from any smart device such as a phone, laptop, iPad, etc.,” he explained.
Even though more than 400 competitors exist in India at the moment, edXbee has been developed in a user-friendly manner by keeping three generations in mind: first, the generation of people aged 40 and above; second, the people aged 20 to 40; and third, teens and children aged below 20.
EdXbee offers a wide range of services to their clients such as availability to operate on 2G, 3G, and 4G mobile connectivity on any smart device; supports more than 100-plus languages; has the ability to capture handwriting, a re-attempt examination platform, a question bank, scoring and grading opportunity for teachers, announcements, a three-tier verification process for exam publication, reviewing of results for teachers, and a user-friendly interface that could be used by all the three generations.
“Education should be borderless; hence, we don’t take any advance payment, and there is absolutely no limit in this platform as to the number of students and teachers that can have access to the web-based examination system after access is given to them. Additionally, exams could be performed by using any language,” Chandrasekera noted.
Additionally, he mentioned that it is very important for a person to do a task that is allocated to them. Elaborating on this, Chandrasekera said that there are institutes where there are approximately 35 students or more and the teacher is required to monitor them online via Zoom or any other platform until the exam is over; meaning, the teacher is required to continuously stare at a monitor without taking a break, which is highly inefficient and not practical.
Hence, while keeping these factors in mind, edXbee has taken measures that teachers can do to execute their job, which is to verify and evaluate exams that are completed by students while also being able to setup exams and get failing students to retake exams or for not adhering to examination protocols.
Accordingly, the “User” will be the main operator in charge of setting up the institute, classes, subjects, departments, and faculties; dispatching invitations for all other operators to join; making announcements; and setting up exams or retaking exams. Meanwhile, the “Approver” will be in charge of approving examinations prepared by the teacher (“User”) by completing the payment process. They will basically be able to do so via a payment gateway, and can also view receipts, invoices, etc.
“We got the green light from the Indian Government because there is 100% safety in conducting the examinations this way, as there is no way the paper could be leaked to students. This is due to the fact that the project is divided among developers from the US, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka to ensure that there is no leakage of papers,” Chandrasekera said.
Status of edXbee
With a client base of more than 165 government and private institutions operating in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, India, and the Maldives, the company, right now, is focusing all its attention on expanding into Asia with the intention of creating space for students to do their examinations without any external burden.
“Since we are not motivated by return on investment (ROI), even expanding outside India was not a strategic move, but with Covid-19, we wanted to give an opportunity to all Asian countries. We have been approved by the US, Canada, and other countries, but our focus is on Asia. To give the best result to clients, we are cost-effective, user friendly, and most importantly flexible, by not breaking any laws and regulations,” he highlighted.
When inquired about the challenges faced in expanding to international countries, Chandrasekera said that one of the biggest obstacles was the “human factor”, i.e. to explain and convince people of the new web-based solution concept which is not familiar to anyone.
Meanwhile, commenting on enhancing the features of the solution, he said that right now, it is important to keep things the way they are, since one change can have an impact on all three generations using the platform. “This is a very new product; we want people to get comfortable. Hence, we do not want to overwhelm the users with new features or other expansions right away.”
Operating with a 24-skilled member team who handles the technical side and staff who handle call services, edXbee will continue to operate even after the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic, as the sole reason for implementing the web-based solution was to reduce the carbon footprint by providing 100% sustainable alternatives.
Giving his concluding remark, Chandrasekera expressed that students should be given the opportunity to think critically in answering questions rather than just restricting them to choosing answers through MCQs (multiple-choice questions) to create leaders in the next generation.
“I would say my vision for edXbee is to make an impact where we make education a whole different ballgame. We want to be flexible while maintaining its integrity, while at the same time being focused on sustainability. We have seen a good response from our clients and we look forward to continuing with this good work that we have started,” he concluded.