Reforming examination system in Punjab

Quality of education, especially at school level, has become a serious concern in the era of globalisation. Owing to lack of human and material resources and their under-utilisation, ill-planning, lack of proper implementation and weak monitoring has resulted in low quality of education in the developing countries like Pakistan. Coupled with these factors, problems exist with the basic elements of educational process objectives, curriculum, teaching methodology, and assessment and evaluation. Perhaps assessment and evaluation lies at the central position in the sense that it is closely linked with measuring the quality of learning outcomes and providing feedback to the main actors in the educational process students and teachers. Improvement in the system of education particularly the curriculum and the instructional strategies is made in the light of feedback provided by the assessment. Although assessment may not be a panacea for all ills, it can definitely be used to improve the quality of education by conducting it effectively and providing feedback to the stakeholders in timely manner. In principle, the process of assessment is subservient to the overall system of education and is carried out at the end of the cycle comprising delineation of objectives, selection of the content, learning experiences provided to the students. However, in actuality, the assessment system has completely taken over the education process and is controlling all other activities of the educational process. Hence, instead of assessing what we teach, we teach what we have processed? This is the whole crux of the problem. Currently eight BISEs are working in Punjab one each at Divisional/Regional level; another BISE is on the way of its establishment in Sahiwal. There is no denying the fact that some reforms have been carried out at BISEs level in Punjab for the last few years. For example, the weighting of purely essay or subjective-type question have been reduced and a balance between objective and subjective type questions has been provided. Consequently, MCQs (30pc), short answer (40pc), and essay-type items (30pc) are included in the examination papers administered by all boards in the Punjab in various subjects at secondary school and higher secondary school examination. But still there is a need for further improvement. The problems and issues arise at the stage of construction of paper and its marking. During the construction of various tests, the emphasis is still on the lower cognitive levels - knowledge and comprehension. The higher cognitive skills such as problem solving and analytical skills are rarely touched. More than 50 per cent of the questions assess students recall or mere rote memorization, which is one of the main reasons for the poor quality of education and its ultimate product. Many times students who attain very good or excellent grades in BISE at secondary or higher secondary level can not apply the knowledge and skills attained in the classroom to the real life situations. This system of examination can not truly assess the learning outcomes envisaged in the national curriculum. The situation is almost similar at secondary and higher secondary levels and across all disciplines. In order to improve the construction of question papers, a training was provided to paper setters and coordinators of different subjects in two different batches for secondary and higher secondary examiners. During training session, one was amazed to observe learn that the paper setters and coordinators demonstrated a lot of resistance and they were not ready to accept new ideas and rules and procedures for construction of quality papers. They relied upon their intuitive knowledge regarding the quality of the items particularly the MCQs. In view of the above mentioned unsatisfactory situation and in the context of examining students learning outcomes in line with the National Curriculum, there is a need to bring more reforms to ensure the quality of question papers and marking mechanisms. Following recommendations may be instrumental in brining positive change in this regard: * BISEs need to tag the internal or continuous assessment of the students made by their teachers at school/college level with their achievement in terminal examination conducted by the BISEs at HSC and HSSC levels. The Government should establish a body for test development and reporting which should be responsible for the continuous training of coordinators, paper setters and examiners in test item development and analysis, and develop guidelines for evaluation of answer sheets by the evaluators/examiners. Teachers having required expertise in subject matter, assessment skills, especially test development and analysis of results should be appointed in that body through a high powered Selection Committee. The occasional training workshops for the paper setters will not serve the purpose of enhancing quality of papers; training should be an ongoing activity of the BISEs. The construction of good papers revolves command over the subject matter, knowledge of the rules and principles for test construction and the skillful application of all these rules. The above mentioned body should involve the experts in the field of assessment and psychometrics to provide ongoing training to the paper setters as well as analysis of results for providing feedback to the individuals as well as schools in order to improve their future performance. There is a provision of a Research cell in each BISE, which has either not been established or has failed to achieve the desired objectives of conducting research and providing insight to BISEs for improvement of assessment system. The new proposed body should acquire this role. It should also organize training workshops for coordinators, paper setters and examiners in different subjects at secondary and higher secondary levels. The existing weighting given to MCQs, short answer and essay-type is good but the need of the hour is to include more questions which can assess students higher cognitive abilities. Context dependent question should be set on the pattern of O and A Levels. Unnecessarily lengthy questions should be avoided; instead emphasis should be on assessing problem solving, analytical and reasoning abilities. Writer is Dean, Faculty of Education, University of the Punjab, Lahore and Member, Working Group, Examination Reforms in Punjab Boards.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt