Re-thinking examinations: Lack of guidelines causing ‘over-marking’

‘We need to increase children’s knowledge’.

Aroosa Shaukat November 28, 2011

LAHORE: “Punjab is the first province to opt for large scale assessments in schools through an organisational structure, the Punjab Education Commission (PEC),” said Abbas Rashid while presenting the findings of a monitoring study by the Society for the Advancement of Education (SAHE) on Monday.

Rashid said the Punjab Education Commission has conducted the assessments regularly for the past five years. He added that this year close to 2.6 million students in grades 5 and 8 were tested in two weeks across Punjab.

SAHE, an NGO which has been working for almost 30 years on educational issues in Punjab, conducted the PEC study in collaboration with the UK Department for International Development. Conducted over a year, the study involved data collected after visiting over 3,000 examination centres in 18 districts of the province.

The study pointed out a lack of facilities in examination centres including furniture, space and supervisory staff. “The situation is worse in co-education centres where the absence of female bathrooms, female staff and proper seating poses difficulty in conducting examinations smoothly.” Rashid said.

Dr Irfan Muzaffar, a consultant at the SAHE, said that the PEC must focus on ‘exam design’ by ensuring it is technically equivalent to other exam designs across the province, reliable and valid. Dr Muzaffar added that capacity development at the PEC can be achieved through in-house human resource and technical support.

The study found that holding more than one paper a day resulted in undue stress on the students, affecting their performance and creating greater workload for teachers who then failed to do justice with checking of the papers. A rechecking of 2,500 examination papers showed that papers were often ‘over-marked’. Rashid attributed this to the lack of clear checking guidelines, volume of the papers and the failure to find subject specialists for checking.

PEC consultant Dr Bashir Ahmed Gondal said teaching should not be aimed at doing well at assessments but to impart learning. He added that ways to promote critical thinking and concept learning need to be incorporated in the assessment techniques. “When such techniques of assessment are practiced, many students complain that the questions are out of the syllabus,” he said.

The PEC was advised to focus on data analysis and dissemination to key stakeholders including provincial and district government, schools, teachers and teacher training institutes. The issue of pass percentage, currently set at 33% was also advised to be addressed in order to improve the overall standards. The study also recommended avoiding linking teacher accountability only to test scores.

Standing Committee on Education chairman Chaudhry Javed Ahmed said the PEC should conduct at least two examinations annually in order to help reduce the dropout rate from schools. He also recommended that the mandated number of school days should be completed before students are expected to sit in an examination, pointing out that several days go unutilised due to public holidays or emergency closure.

He added that there was a need to reduce the number of subjects taught in schools. “We are not increasing the knowledge our children get, we are only imposing education on them,” Ahmed said. The chairman said that the government’s first priority is education and teachers should get the respect for the vital role they play in society.

Rashid added that the significance of examinations and other forms of assessments should be understood and acknowledged.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2011.


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