“Evaluation is to improve and not to prove” — a concept that has never been a priority in Pakistan’s education system. This is evident from the acute dearth of related meaningful literature in Pakistan’s perspective — a matter of great intellectual concern for employers, universities and policymakers. The role of public examination system has been limited from being a driver to pedagogies to being a gateway to higher education and employment.
There are, however, a number of examination boards in the country. Public examinations from grade five and eight are held both internally as well as externally by education departments concerned in different provinces. From grade nine to 12, they are conducted by the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE). In addition to these, foreign examining bodies are also present.
Co-existence of multiple and poorly coordinated examination boards are usually characterised by sundry test designing at intra-and inter-subject levels, high quotient of questions of low cognitive domain promoting cramming, increased incidence of repeated questions and promotion of selective studies, etc. Resultantly, substandard and non-standardised output at intra-and inter-provincial levels is a twin-dilemma of public examinations in Pakistan. This has constrained parents to opt for schools offering foreign curricula and examination system with high international acceptability.
Apart from co-existence of multiple examining bodies, there are multiple stakeholders and the BISE cannot be singled out to be the sole contributor towards Pakistan’s poor quality examination system. Recognition of incorrect perceived attributes of performance and out of proportionate focus on quantitative progression as an indicator of their accomplishment by all stakeholders is a key flaw of our examination system. For instance, usual focus of a teacher is to teach and train students for testing with the ultimate objective to get good score in an examination than actual learning. Focus of a school is to have its students pass an examination with high grades so that the school’s name can become popular. On the other hand, the focus of parents is to ensure that their children get good scores to be able to get admission to a reputed or professional institution regardless of their level of learning. Lastly, the focus of the BISE is to expand its enrolment, prevent the use of unfair means/cheating, etc, than to improve standards of examinations.
After the devolution of education as a provincial subject, provinces and area governments have also become key stakeholders in the examination system, especially when 26 out of 29 examination boards are under their administrative control. Unfortunately, qualitative attributes of enhanced performance (validity and reliability) of an examination system have inadequate space on the agenda of majority of the stakeholders.
Growing realisation and inclination of an individual BISE to come out of this vicious trap is hindered by the lack of quality of its human capital, capacity of its teachers, anticipated retaliation from all stakeholders and likelihood of lower grades, etc.
However, it is important to move out of this ferocious trap and this calls for a blend of both soft and hard interventions. These include recognition and sensitisation of all stakeholders to shift their focus from number and grades to actual level of learning, capacity building of test item writers and examiners along with moral suasion for enhanced validity and reliability of examinations, reducing the number of examining bodies initially at intra-provincial level, development of question papers from single source by creating Question Item Bank at central or provincial levels, consensus on uniform composition of question paper in terms of different cognitive domains amongst all the BISEs and gradual increase in quotient of questions of higher learning domain. These will help match in-house talent with growing market needs and reduction of vivid variation in quality of examination output across the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th, 2018.