The pandemic of Covid-19 has created the largest disruption in the education system affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents. Closure of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94 percent of the world’s student population, up to 99 per cent in low and lower-middle income countries like Bangladesh.
The pandemic has forced the government to postpone the examinations, severely disrupting the academic life of the students. Around 21 lakh students are expected to take part in the SSC and its equivalent exams and 15 lakh in the HSC and its equivalent tests this year. Last year, an HSC exam was cancelled to help stop the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
The government has taken decision to hold exams on three elective subjects. The students will not have to sit for tests in compulsory subjects like Bangla, English and Mathematics. The results of the three optional subjects and the Grade Point Average (GPA) of the students' previous public examinations, including Junior School Certificate (JSC) tests will be taken into consideration while preparing the final results. The students will receive an average score in each compulsory subject, calculated from marks given for previous tests and assignment throughout the year.
Furthermore, the syllabuses of specific subjects have been shortened; and, the examinations will be held on abridged syllabuses of those three elective papers from each group: science, commerce and humanities. The examination of optional subjects known as fourth paper will also be skipped. In addition, the exams will carry fewer marks. The total marks in each subject will be 50 instead of 100.
Some fresh decisions were also taken for SSC and HSC levels- the exams in each of the three optional subjects would be held for one and a half hours, instead of three hours; and the examinees would get more options to answer the questions. Earlier, students were asked to write down answers to eight out of 10 questions. This time, they will have to answer three or four out of 10 questions. Like previous years, examinees will have to answer both multiple choice and written questions.
As part of the exam, the SSC candidates will have to submit 24 assignments in three optional subjects in 12 weeks. The HSC candidates will have to submit 30 assignments in 15 weeks. Students are required to do two assignments per week. Teachers will assess the assignments of their own students and put all information in the central data centre. The Board authority would pick 10 percent of the assignments randomly and experts would assess those to check whether the evaluation was done appropriately. Some opine that if the assessment is done by the teachers of respective institutions, there will be a chance of biasness.
It is a wise decision to introduce assignments for the students as alternative assessment. There are a lot of benefits to gain from using an assignment as an assessment method. In this current Covid-19 pandemic, assignments can be used to test higher cognitive abilities and the application of specific skills or knowledge. However, designing and using an assignment as a summative test (students get a score or grade or pass/fail judgment), there are things to consider. The assignment and the feedback provided must support the learning process.
As we know, the board authorities faced multiple difficulties and challenges in formulating the results of 2020 HSC examinees who changed group and whose elective subjects did not match with elective subjects at SSC levels. So, this year, giving tests on only elective subjects can merely reduce the difficulties of formulating and calculating the structural results of examinees; but, the aim of the assessment will not be fulfilled and achieved. It is not much better than “No Exam.’
The authority must pursue qualitative outcome instead of quantitative calculation of results. The announcement of holding exams on elective subjects only triggered mixed reactions among the stakeholder, teachers, students and their guardians, saying-"If they can hold the exams in three subjects, why cannot they do so for all the subjects? Compulsory subjects are more important than elective subjects.
The exams only on the three elective subjects are very close to “auto-pass” approach. It may make the results preparation easier for the board authorities; but, it would be very faulty in nature and utmost failure of understanding the importance of assessment on the basic compulsory subjects. So, exams should be held on compulsory, elective, and optional subjects on a limited scale or in a shorter version to produce acceptable results.
The government should re-consider the decision on holding examinations on elective subjects only; and they should hold full-fledged exams in shorter form as they have planned for the elective subjects only. We need to introduce counterbalance assessment for students. Context is then all important in making a decision. There is one further point to consider before we continue, and it is an important one; that we need to include all study subjects in our public examination to look learning outcomes of our learners. Still clearly, there have been different ways to proceed available.
Exams are a great way to assess what the students have learned with regards to study subjects. The government may choose the actions that are appropriate to them, taking account of such factors as the timing and extent of the spread of the virus, and the nature and scheduling of their assessments. At the same time, the authority must consider the purpose and importance of the high stakes tests, like SSC and HSC examinations. A well-thought out plan of holding public examinations can definitely improve our education so that not only will the students regain their promised future, but all education stakeholders find their role in making it happen.
The writer is an Educational Researcher.
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