Results that matter!

Published: September 29, 2012
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The writer is tenured associate professor of computer science at LUMS and is currently working as the chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board

The writer is tenured associate professor of computer science at LUMS and is currently working as the chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board

Few can forget the mayhem that marred the announcement of intermediate results last year, with students burning down buildings, protests over delayed and incorrect results and the inquiries and resignations that followed. Ostensibly, it was an attempt at ‘computerisation’ of results that went horribly wrong. In fact, it was an attempt at reforming the intermediate exam system that was halted by the resistance of a decades-old system, entrenched with vested interests and open exploitation.

This year, our attempt at reforming this difficult sector was more successful: results for over one million students announced on time; 622,000 errors from manual registration and grading corrected before announcement; not a single result ‘R/L’ed’ (later on). You didn’t hear about it because no building was put on fire, tear gas was not fired at protestors and no one committed suicide. In this case, no news was definitely good news.

To understand the magnitude of the reform, here is the post-mortem of the old system. Students were registered in a decentralised, manual system, run independently by all eight boards. As a consequence, a student could register multiple times with one’s real or fake identity. Likewise, centres, invigilators and seating plans were prepared manually, leaving the process open to influence and corruption. The fictitious roll numbers, used to hide the identity of a student could be compromised, allowing someone to chase the examiner to get the few extra marks needed to get into an engineering school. Lastly, and perhaps, most importantly, results were compiled manually and the award sheets were culled after a couple of months. If a student’s grades were changed, either due to human error or as a result of malafide practice, there was no paper trail. About 20 per cent of the results every year were erroneous. Indeed, this system needed fixing. And it took both unrelenting political will and relentless efforts of several government departments to fix it.

As a first step, students now register in a computerised central registration system, eliminating duplicate and fake registrations via real-time background checks against records in the central database. Furthermore, centres and invigilators are now allocated without human intervention, based on proximity to the student’s school or residence — and ensuring that no college gets to seat all its students in the same exam centre. A dedicated public helpline is provided for invigilators, students, parents and concerned citizens to report complaints and questionable events during the exam conduction phase. Human-readable, fictitious roll numbers have been replaced with computer-generated bar codes, making it impossible to track papers and chase examiners. Award sheets and objective questions sheets have been changed to use internationally adopted SAT-like answer/award bubble-colouring sheets, which are scanned to automatically compile the overall result of a student. The scanning process also preserves the award sheets for each paper for verification at a later stage, if needed.

Finally, we involved a third party for validation of computed results that compared the manually tabulated results by the Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) with the results tabulated via the scanning-based automated process at each BISE.

The impact of these measures have been phenomenal, with an astounding 622,000 errors identified and corrected during the pre-result publication stage. These errors ranged from totalling errors on the part of the examiners to incorrect absentee records leading to mismatches in result tabulation. These measures have also helped eliminate the elements of uncertainty and surprise that were characteristic of results tabulation in previous years, by enabling key managers to track progress online in real time and take timely corrective action.

This intervention has not been easy as there were many sleepless nights, raised tempers, street protests, life threats, propaganda campaigns, criminal cases and rolled heads. But, as the chief minister of Punjab put it in a recent meeting, even if one deserving student gets his rightful place in a college due to a more transparent examination system, it’s certainly worth it.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • from a student of yours
    Sep 29, 2012 - 11:09PM

    Good going sir.
    Im glad you are putting your energy to good use :)
    However , I have kind of mix feelings that you are also playing the PR card for PML-N .

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  • Runi
    Sep 29, 2012 - 11:26PM

    Bravo umar!

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  • ks
    Sep 30, 2012 - 12:06AM

    ok. good work. thank u.

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  • Zainab
    Sep 30, 2012 - 3:00AM

    Fantastic work! Thank you Dr. Umar and Shahbaz Sharif. You put right people in right positions and things automatically start improving. These kind of things restore my faith in Pakistan.

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  • Sir Dard
    Sep 30, 2012 - 3:36AM

    PMLN – future of my children!

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  • Jamshed
    Sep 30, 2012 - 3:36AM

    Well Punjab IT board should have bought some educational software instead of trying to waste millions in INHOUSE software development .. Like oracle higher education suite .. HEC is already in talk with oracle to buy that . And it is going to manage all govt pria the universities together .. Same suit could have been used for higher secondary education .. It is irony that in Pakistan govt want to take credit of something which shouldn’t have happened at first place .. Like dengue, floods and now this exam system .. Do u know that Hyderabad board is computerised? Since last 5 years .. I know u don’t .. Because it is running fine since it was introduced .. And no body set board on fire 5 years ago .. Please next time test the system first before u deploy ..

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  • Xtreme
    Sep 30, 2012 - 6:32AM

    Bravo, Sir…

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  • ali
    Sep 30, 2012 - 7:28AM

    Great work sir. Credit goes to CM Punjab for his political will and specially your team for their gigantic effort and sincerity. For those who talking about CHANGE, please note these are the steps towards real change. Such projects and persons like Mr. Asad Saif can leas us towards positive change.Recommend

  • Tariq
    Sep 30, 2012 - 11:07AM

    Mr Umar u r just doing PR of CM punjab,otherwse in this age of technology it is no more to computerise system.U need just few good DataBase Administratos and thats it.Any software house can implement the system in two months which u people take more then two years to implement.

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  • Amna Aftab
    Sep 30, 2012 - 12:39PM

    Great work. Really happy to read this. These LUMS guys are really great and so happy that they are also using their skills for greater national good. THIS is what Universities are supposed to do.

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  • Abdullah
    Sep 30, 2012 - 3:21PM

    @Jamshed,

    You missed the point! The challenge was not to implement a software but the challenge was to revamp the process in the presence of a corrupt system. This, as one can easily see, requires manual intervention. If they had purchased a software only, I am afraid, it’s installation and training would have taken years!

    Who told you that millions were spent in the in-house development? I believe millions were saved for not going for purchase of an expensive software. The biggest corruption is always seen in the purchase of infrastructure (Software/Hardware). Few youngsters have made it possible with their nighters and restless effort!

    You seem to have hard time in digesting this success by a Govt. department. Well, we should not criticize everything for the sake of it and learn to identify and appreciate good work (no offense).

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  • A Peshawary
    Sep 30, 2012 - 3:43PM

    Sir, It was your duty for which you must have been paid lucratively (more than routine public servant) which might have been on merit. No question on the package but why to boost for a job done? It is difficult to understand why someone ask for acclamation from the public (on face of it appears to be a splendid job) instead of the bosses who are suppose to assess the performance of an employee.

    A Peshawary

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  • Ghufran
    Oct 1, 2012 - 1:56PM

    Very disturbing to see the negative comments. This is a laudable reform of a critical system. We need to raise ourselves beyond petty politics and appreciate this piece of fantastic work by government of punjab. Time for others to take cue from this and deliver on important governance tasks. Well done — many generations will thank you for this effort!

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  • obs
    Oct 1, 2012 - 4:35PM

    obviously some people @A peshawary, has no idea how much BISE employees didn’t wanted to get it Computerized. Please do research on how many times BISE Computerization Failed before! also its hard for me to comprehend how we as a nation fail to see any event positive or negative outside the realm of conspiracies and Politics.
    The computerization of BISE is an excellent achievement one worthy of been mention in Media,simply because its so easy to talk about something then doing it.

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  • Adnan
    Oct 21, 2012 - 3:24PM

    Great work Dr. Umar. Congrats to you and your dedicated team who made this possible. This is what “right man for right job” can do :). Let’s put right men in our national assemblies/provencial assemblies for a prosper Pakistan. Hopefully, in coming times, we as a nation would be able to use the modern technology for our betterment. Pakistan Payndabad!

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