It was on a lazy afternoon; I was intermittently checking news feed on Facebook, aimlessly scrolling up and down when a friend’s post caught my attention. She had shared a post by VFC (Volunteer For a Cause – http://www.vfcindia.org) calling for volunteering as scribe. A scribe is a person who writes an exam for a visually impaired person. The post had an email address, TinyURL and phone numbers to contact and register if interested. I jumped at the opportunity and registered right away. Not only did I register, but I also made my brother register. Here was a chance to be of some help to someone and I didn’t want to give it a miss. This was my first time being a scribe, and I was sure it would not only be a great experience but a satisfying one.
A week after the registration was closed, I received a prompt reply from the volunteer of VFC providing details of the examination along with hall ticket. Few were assigned for morning and afternoon exams both and few only for the afternoon. My brother and I were both assigned to two sessions, meaning we had to write exams for two candidates. There was this particular note on the hall ticket which caught my eye. Every volunteer was entitled to an honorarium of Rs. 650 for two shifts and Rs. 475 for a single shift. This was a confusing situation for me. There is a distinction between employees and volunteers, right? Employees get paid for their work; volunteers do not, isn’t it? I didn’t want to use this money, neither did I want to refuse to accept the payment, for I wasn’t sure how people would use these funds from the Government. I decided to do something about this, maybe donate it to the needy.
The day before the exam all the volunteers were added to a Whatsapp group to remind us all about the upcoming event and to brief us all about the examination (some good use of technology here). I was taken aback to learn that few had no clue whatsoever, why on earth they were added to this group, where they didn’t know anyone! Apparently, they had once registered to volunteer and forgotten! The admins with utmost patience answered all their queries and even guided them to get to the exam centre.
On the day of the exam, we reached the centre 30 mins before the start of the exam. I was disappointed to know my candidate had not turned up but one has to understand they are dependent on someone to reach the place. My disappointment was short-lived, I was asked to be an invigilator for one of the candidates. Each candidate is assigned with a scribe and an invigilator. While the scribe reads out and marks the answers on the OMR sheet, the invigilator has to make sure the candidate’s name, signature/ thumb impression and other details are duly filled. Though many invigilators didn’t sit through the entire test, I chose to. I was observing how the scribe manages to read out and explain the questions to the candidate. This not only prepared me for the afternoon session but also made it quite clear that it was not an easy job!
The examination was conducted by Staff Selection Commission, for the post of Lower Division Clerk and Data Entry Operator. Candidates were to answer 200 questions comprising of General Awareness, General Intelligence, Basic English and Quantitative Aptitude in 2 hours and 40 mins. The paper was pretty tough, especially the Quant section and English was not basic enough. Most of the candidates couldn’t answer math as they found it very difficult to mentally calculate. Many scribes went out of their way to “help” the candidates wherever they gave a wrong answer.
Post lunch we gathered again at the examination centre for the afternoon session. Invigilators brought the candidates and made them sit in their designated places. Most of them turned up, except mine This time I told the organisers I had already been an invigilator in the morning and would like to be a scribe for someone, at least now. They obliged and gave me a candidate who was waiting for a scribe.
After a quick introduction, I filled my candidate’s details and waited for the second bell to start the exam. I started reading out the questions and soon realised Divya, my candidate wanted the questions to be translated to Kannada. The question paper was in English and Hindi, as most of the candidates in this centre were from Karnataka, they expected the scribes to explain the question to them in simple words, preferably in Kannada. I tried my best to do so. Divya tried answering most of the questions and said she doesn’t want to do the math as it was pretty difficult. Which I thought was wise of her, as there was negative marking for wrong answers. She managed to answer most of the questions from the other 3 sections. After a good two hours, we were done. All the invigilators and scribes helped the candidates out of the classrooms and headed back home satisfied
The whole experience made me think… There is no denying that the Government is trying to make the examinations more accessible to candidates with special needs. Directing the expenditure towards developing better infrastructure would perhaps be a more intelligent choice. Probably providing the candidates with computers that would read out the questions to the candidates who can then mark the answers or have the questions in braille. From what I saw, the candidates place a lot of trust in the scribes. If either of them can’t communicate well it’s always the candidate at a loss!
Things do not change overnight, and until the government comes up with such initiatives, volunteers will be ready to help whenever required
Take a pledge to donate your eyes. You don’t need them after your death!
I have pledged mine, and I request you all to pledge yours too. Give someone the most precious gift of sight.