Improving the quality of education is a continuous concern for policymakers. Appointment of quality teachers and conducting their training programme, development of curriculum, improvement of teaching-learning technique, increasing students’ enrolment, distribution of free books to students and finally conducting a full proof examination are considered as hallmarks for ensuring quality education everywhere in the world.
A quality education provides the outcomes needed for individuals, communities, and societies to prosper. The educationists of the UNESCO prescribed that a quality education is supported by three key pillars— ensuring appointment of quality teachers, providing quality teaching-learning methods and the establishment of effective mechanism for examination. Arguments on the appointment of quality teachers and the quality teaching-learning methods were discussed many times in the past. But here in this article, I have given emphasis on effective mechanism for examination as a priority setting for quality education.
Quality education has become a central issue and a matter of urgency to revisit the question of what quality means and how it can be ensured through establishing effective public examination in rapidly changing societies. Over the decades, the UNESCO has been at the centre of the intellectual debate on the concept of quality education and its examination systems. Attaining high academic grades without learning the social skills and human qualities does not talk about ‘quality education’. Quality education has a vision that focuses on fundamental ethics-based human qualities.
It is true that examination plays a significant role in providing the basis for certifying a student as having completed a formal course of studies but this traditional exam system does not focus on human qualities, fundamental ethics and student’s psychological effects.
Conducting secondary (SSC) and higher secondary (HSC) level public examinations need huge involvements of various segment of people from Board staff to school teachers for preparation and moderation of question paper, selection of examination centres, changing students from one school to another school, preparation of examiners’ list, and publication of result. In this process, changing total set of students from one school to another during the examination is the most difficult part for the students. They do not know the location and their sit plan of centre school. Thus, they visit the centre school to see their sit plan before the exam day. They feel an additional psychological pressure for the new environment of centre school in addition to their first burden of public exam in their school life. This is an exceptional arrangement of changing whole students from one school to another by keeping teachers intact in the same school.
Other most common problem is traffic mismanagement. Student sometimes do not find any transport to go to centre school. Extra burden is loaded on the shoulder of parents to hire transport beforehand. A lot of difficulties are faced by the parents during public examinations.
But changing whole students from one school to another during public examination is not followed in many countries including Australia, the UK and some other middle-income countries. We have graduated as a middle-income country. We need to follow the norms and practice of public examination of middle-income countries, where school teachers are fully trusted to conduct the public examination of their own students. Most of the schools are declared as centre school and their own teachers are made responsible to conduct the public examination of their own students with full trust and confidence like university examination. In our country, all teachers of public and private universities are responsible to prepare question paper and to conduct the final examination, assess answer scripts, prepare marks sheet and declare result with full trust and confidence. If this exercise has been proven as best practice at the tertiary level, it is obvious that this may continue at the SSC and HSC level after some experimentation.
Memorising reading material is completely opposite to quality education. Writing down from memory does not give anything that ensures quality education. Application-based problem solving question in the public examination is a great solution for the quality education. Questions that enhance ethical human qualities and enable them to think or analyse critically can be carefully inserted. For example, question such as “give an example of a situation in which you saw an opportunity in a potential problem” or “what steps do you take before making a decision on how to solve a problem, and why”, instead of “what is a problem and what is an opportunity”. The students will be able to develop critical thought process.
The board authorities may choose to keep top five selected subjects such as English grammar, Math, Physics for engineering studies, Biology for medical studies, computer science for 4th industrial revolution studies or other subjects etc for the public examinations. Exam for rest subjects like Bengali, History, Logic etc may be conducted at the school level by the own teachers and marks sheet may be sent to Board as soon as possible. The Board then may publish the result within one month of the exam by taking the school marks and the board marks together. Waiting near about two months’ to get results of public exam is just wastage of time of our growing child.
There is an approach of “open book” exam. Some argued ‘open book’ exam cannot ensure the quality of exam. “Open Book” format examination presumably impossible to do well if the students have no good knowledge over the subject. The civil servants appear at the exam of this type departmental test in the Civil Service. But some officers do not pass in this open book exam because of low level of application knowledge and no good command over the subjects. Again, question pattern is completely different for which it is difficult to find answers from the book.
Online examination may need to be tested to find out its effectiveness. How the students in remote or rural areas, those with no access or low-quality access to the internet or to computers, can attend the exam needs to be exercised. Online examinations are still a new phenomenon at educational institutions without an invigilator present before them. However, during a pandemic period where in-person contact comes with many risks, online exams are a great way of maintaining momentum in education to ensure the learning process doesn’t ground to a halt.
Examination is not simply a content assessment system; rather it is a system designed to help all children to reach their full potential and enter in to the society as full and productive citizens. Conducting efficient public examination can reduce days for taking exam, reduce psychological pressure of the students and be cost effective, trust building, and smooth transitions of students to higher classes with less percentage of failed students.
Efforts to bring about reforms of public examinations are likely to prove challenging, because of well-established traditions, imbedded administrative practices and accepted procedures. Even though reform measures in the public examinations are essential for the interest of quality education.
The writer is a former Senior Secretary