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11 days ago

Experiments in public exams

A student takes exam at the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination site in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Sept 15, 2022.
A student takes exam at the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination site in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Sept 15, 2022. Photo : Xinhua

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The national body for curriculum finalisation has lately given the go-ahead to a new evaluation system replacing the existing one for up to 10th grade. Two major changes have been brought in the new system - changes in the weightage of written and practical examinations and in grading system. The existing grade point average or GPA system has been replaced with a letter-based grading system in which a student will be placed in any of the seven scales - Ananya (Unique), Arjanmukhi (Accomplishing), Agragami (Pioneering), Sakriyo (Proactive), Anusandhani (Inquisitive), Bikashman (Developing) or Praramvik (Beginning). The other changed feature is that under the new system, the weightage of the written portion is 65 per cent and the practical portion is 35 per cent.

We have never heard of this weird grading system before. However, government representatives are praising the new system highlighting its 'unique' features. And the educationists leaning towards the ruling section are also not lagging behind others in narrating the benefits of the new system; they are equally engaged in attracting public attention to its merits.

It is not bad to introduce any new system if it is thought to be beneficial to the people concerned. But before that proper study, stakeholders' consultations and necessary preparation are a must to ensure that it really works well and be beneficial. Our experience with previously introduced evaluation methods is not that pleasant. The education minister himself acknowledged that many students achieving GPA 5 under the existing 'creative question-answer system' lack the necessary skills, prompting the integration of continuous assessment and other testing mechanisms into the latest curriculum.

Anyone will agree that the 'creative' question-answer system was introduced to replace the traditional method without required preparation and training to the teachers who assess answer scripts. And the results of the abrupt introduction of the system are what we are discovering now. For several years since the introduction of the system, teachers remained divided into two groups -- untrained and trained on answer script evaluation under the new method. The gap in understanding between the two groups was so wide that if one group considered an answer correct, the other group thought it was wrong. But the government was not in a position to afford the failure of a huge number of students in public exams only because of systematic mismatch. So the government had to take such a decision that led to students achieving wholesale GPA-5, the top grade. Even those who skipped exams of one or two mandatory courses passed the exams. No, it is not imaginary. An investigation discovered that several students under Chattogram board graduated from 10th and qualified for college entry despite their failure in sitting all mandatory exams.

Many believe this is not a Chattogram board-specific phenomenon, similar incidents might have happened in other boards too.

Students achieving GPA-5 become so common that now it is impossible to assess any student by his/her results. Gone is the era when anyone could understand how good or bad academically a student, securing the first, second, or third division, is.

The mindless introduction of two new public exams - PSC at the end of the fifth grade and JSC at the end of the eighth grade - was another perilous step students had to go through. The government scrapping the two exams later proved they were inappropriate. It will not be unjust to say that those who were behind the introduction of the exams were 'too shortsighted' to take any policymaking role in a field like education that determines the course of students' lives. Anyway, we have not heard of anyone being held responsible for making our children guinea pigs. This sort of indemnity might encourage others to play with students' futures that we cannot expect or accept.

Before the introduction of this new evaluation system, we need to conduct a study on its potential impact on the quality of education and on the students, to train all the teachers involved in answer papers evaluation, and to prepare students to adapt to the challenges. Otherwise, the efforts might turn to be a failure exercise and take a toll on students and as a whole the nation unnecessarily.

Another issue that many people already discussed is the protection of students from teachers with low moral standards. A big chunk of marks left to teachers to be given to students for their practical abilities and knowledge might make them, particularly female students, vulnerable to maltreatment or harassment. We have not forgotten the incidents in which several students were violated by teachers and several others traumatised by them committed suicide. We expect the policymakers will give a second thought before putting the new evaluation system in place.

 

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