Fake Assessment and Punjab Examination Commission
Assessing our future
by: Waqas A. Khan
Assessment is neither a game to play nor is it a bureaucratic task. The connection between it and the quality of education a child receives is eternal and absolute but not in the Punjab Examination Commission.
At primary and elementary levels, a systematic approach to collecting, reviewing and analyzing data to improve learning is extremely important. Many researchers have concluded that an effective primary education offers a more significant impact on our children’s academic progress than anything else.
A 2015 University College London’s Institute of Education study found that the best quality of teaching in an academically effective primary school gave those children’s development a substantial boost.
But in Pakistan, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), one of thelargest citizens-led household initiatives in 2015, revealed a strong link between wealth and school enrollment at primary level. It not only unearthed trends of enrollment in government and private schools, but it also indirectly emphasized the need for standard assessment in government schools at primary and secondary level.
Results from the 2015 data of ASER revealed that among school-age children, the poorest quartile are enrolled in government schools (87%) whereas the remaining 9% of the children are enrolled in private schools. The richest quartile had the highest number of children enrolled in private schools (38%) with the lowest percentage of the children in government schools (61%).
Yes, this seems to paint a bleak picture, but consider this.
While acknowledging the income disparity, a majority of students still study in government/public schools; not only the 87 percent poorest, but 61 percent of the richest. They depend upon the government for the primary and elementary education. This obviously creates the dire need for a solid Assessment system at this level.
But the same survey has identified that children’s learning abilities –in terms of reading Urdu or regional languages, English or doing basic level of arithmetic — is alarmingly poor. Almost 69 percent of Class-III-level students are unable to read a Class-II-level story in Urdu or regional languages like Sindhi and Pashto, while almost 43 percent students cannot read Class-II-level sentences. Almost 73 percent of Class-III students and 39 percent of Class-V students cannot read Class-II English sentences. Similarly, 44 percent of Class-V, 32 percent of Class-VI and 24 percent of Class-VII students cannot perform Class-III-level triple-digit division.
The Punjab Examination Commission (PEC) was formed in 2005 as an autonomous body to help enhance the performance of teachers and students in the government schools through multi-dimensional Assessment, analysis, research, observations and interviews. However, 11 years hence, this organization has failed miserably when it comes to addressing any of these issues.
For your consideration:
Primary and elementary standard papers conducted by the PEC have been poorly managed. Examination centers received subjective portions of the paper as late as 2:40pm though the paper was scheduled to being at 2:00pm. Interestingly, the objective portion of the paper was received by the exam centers around 3:30pm, while timing was scheduled to take place from 2:00pm to 4:30pm.
Additionally, roll number slips of many students were missing. Subsequently, they were advised to sit in exams without them. Even many of those with these slips in hand complained that the wrong particulars were printed on them. In centers across Punjab, including Kasur, Gujranwala, Shaikupura, Rahim Yar Khan and Multan, answers to objective-type questions were SMSed before the papers even arrived at the centre. For more than a decade such sloppy, unexplained and apparently accepted excuses have been the rule rather than the exception.
Such blatant inattention to detail, by its very essence, should cast major doubt on who actually is taking these Assessment tests.
And the news is not any better when it comes to the results of such “examinations.”
Last year, by heralded announcement, we learned that a few lucky ones had miraculously passed even though they had not appeared for the examinations. There also were complaints about substandard marking, differences in names and roll numbers. When complaints were lodged, the PEC quickly declared that all students had passed and instructed the Education Department to promote everyoneto the next level.
This year, 1.2 million students of grade V and 1.6 million in grade VIII appeared for their board exams. But PEC had outsourced the paper printing and delivery process and the papers were leaked, their delivery was late. It was a colossal failure all around, especially for the children.
With such an important role to fill, and armed with a heavy annual budget to do so, Punjab Examination Commission’s failure to conduct primary and middle examinations in a professional manner casts serious doubts about its ability to ever perform capably.
There is a dire need of Assessment experts in the core team of the PEC. Ironically, there is no PhD in assessment present on its core team.
There is a dire need to decentralize the examinations at district level or setting-up of Elementary Education Boards to make primary and middle standard examinations more transparent because in this much centralization, mostly all those involved in holding the examinations do not take it seriously and commit unforgiveable blunders.
Assessment systems are not designed to promote the students to next grade; they are devised to identify lapses in students’ learning and teaching methodologies, which are their very essence.
According to scope and functions defined in the charter, PEC had to train teachers and examine students’ learning achievements particularly of grade V and VIII on district, tehsil and union council level which has been completely skipped by the organization. It also was supposed to compile an annual report highlighting weaknesses of students of every school on union council level, PEC then was supposed to train teachers in a specific subject and appoint them in a given school. But, unfortunately for our youth and those willing teachers among us, after 11 years the commission has neither prepared a report nor trained teachers.
During PEC examinations, I have witnessed teachers using every means at their disposal to help their students cheat. Without doing so, the negative results would bring show-cause notices being served upon the teachers. To escape such departmental consequences, teachers routinely change results in their favor. Hence data collected by PEC has no authenticity or legitimacy, and it certainly cannot be used to establish provincial indicators.
The time has come to make demands.
We must rid ourselves of DMG bureaucrats in PEC. Professional management and assessment professionals must be hired to make this a truly credible and effective body. Otherwise, it will continue to devolve into an abyss.
We also must set up elementary boards based on the design of our secondary boards to assure that our new system for which we advocate can operate with maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
Spending Rs.700 million a year in Punjab on Assessment at primary and elementary level for such ill-gotten results – repeated for so many years — is shameful for what should have become by now a trusted and affirming system of educational evaluation. It has been reported that again this year the PEC has decided to promote “everyone” to the next level.
Here, too, the future of our great country is at stake.
We cannot – and must not — promote unprepared students to the next class. Instead, they’ve actually been demoted year after year to a life of illiteracy and darkness.
In your Assessment, aren’t we better than this? We should be!
This article was published in Pakistan Today.