PBVM

Paschim Banga Vigyam Mancha (PBVM, West Bengal Science Forum) started in 1986. It is the largest organization of its kind, functioning primarily in the state of West Bengal, India, with more than 342,000 memberships across the country.

PBVM spreads awareness about science and scientific education to the far reaches of rural Bengal via various methods and examinations. The organization goes beyond all social and economic barriers. PBVM was even accredited with the National Award for the “Best Effort in Science Popularization” by the Government of India’s Department of Science and Technology.


COVID-19

We at 19thCross learned that PBVM was, for the first time in decades, skipping 2020's exam due to COVID-19 restrictions. It was impossible for them to organize this event given the effort needed to do so, including planning, advertising, fee collection, registration, organizing the exam in various remote locations, and grade card distribution, all of which were rendered impossible by the strict restrictions imposed on mobility across the country.

We were already experimenting in the education market with Zitlin, which we pitched to PBVM to help them execute the entire examination process pro bono. Some of the organizers were initially skeptical about the introduction of technology into the examination process, which had been fully conducted offline up to this point. However, after a few meetings, PBVM decided to come onboard and try it out in three/four of the 23 districts in West Bengal.


The Challenge

We knew this was not going to be easy and Zitlin needed quite a bit of tweaking. Rural Bengal had its own limitations to adapting to online exams.

  • Extremely low Internet literacy
  • Low-end devices
  • Very long power outages
  • A single shared device for entire large families
  • Trust deficit regarding online/digital systems (online banking or online exams)
  • Unavailability of any field technicians to handle the software and provide immediate support

Thankfully, due to India’s telephonic revolution over the past 20 years, Internet connectivity was not an obstacle at all.


Strategy and Approach

We divided the project into four segments:


  • Advertisement
    • Traditional (reaching out directly to PBVM branch offices and members)
    • Social media
    • Injecting new concepts into other PBVM events
    • Handouts
    • Printed posters, which were later plastered on the walls at various locations:

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  • Registration
    • Use our sister brand "Poridorshok" as the face for this exam
    • Students/parents could use our website or android app to fill out the registration form
    • Each registration generated a password to allow participants to login to the exam
    • Payments were made via online transfers or offline at any PBVM branch office
    • Offline registrations were also allowed
  • Examination
    • MCQ questions with auto-save on change events
    • The exam will open and close at specific predefined times
    • Even unpaid registrants were allowed to participate (we predicted that offline payments would take longer to arrive at the district office as they were physically brought in by PBVM members)
    • In the event of any problems, students would receive proper messaging with an alternative exam date
  • Results and Grade Cards
    • Seven days after the exam, students could use the same website/app to login using their exam password
    • Students could view their obtained marks
    • Students could download their grade card with the PBVM logo and organizer signatures in PDF format

Execution

We scheduled two test exams to let people know how the system works. To keep things simple, they used the same password for both of these exams. The final exam date was set to be 13 th December, 2020.


Google analytics real time:
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Technology

In general, the exam software doesn't get any hits other than during the exam duration. Let's say there are 1,000 participants and 50 questions to be answered in one hour. This becomes 50,000 post requests plus 1,000 login requests. The system needs to be reliable, fast enough for 3G networks, and easy to use. If something goes wrong, the whole thing needs to be reset, new questions must be created, date announcements must be sent, etc.

We picked DigitalOcean to host our backend admin panel, which is used to manage CRUD operations for the questions, answer sheets, registrations, payment statuses, team management, and other back office tasks. To handle the exam hour and grade card download traffic, we have a lean serverless (deployed on CloudFlare Workers) module which runs independently without hitting backend APIs.


Final Note

For the past 28 years, PBVM has been conducting mathematics and general science exams for students between grades 7 and 10. These exams, given their audience, are traditional in nature. Students register in their regional offices by paying a nominal fee, go to a designated location to take the exam on exam day and, in a few weeks, collect their grade cards from the same regional offices. PBVM also organizes events to hand over prizes to the top scorers.

A few thousand students participate in these exams from all across the state. For them, having a PBVM grade certificate helps them with future college admissions, etc. Most of the top scorers even frame their grade cards. It's a matter of pride to them. PBVM is a gateway to higher education in STEM for many students.

PBVM is fully satisfied with Zitlin and is already planning to execute this program statewide.