Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s examination boards have been in the limelight due to an apparent race for incredibly high marks on the SSC exam.
The ongoing debate on the issue on social media forced the KP’s Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to take cognizance of the issue, setting up a committee to review the papers of candidates who scored more than 1090 points to the examination. The committee is mandated to assess the quality of the papers check and the exam board policy process to advise the way forward for future exams in the province.
These results are very much to be expected, and in fact we are getting the fruits of what we have sown over time. For example, the overarching and important issue in Pakistan’s educational landscape is rote memorization. We don’t like change; otherwise, we can easily learn from international best practices. Instead, to assess basic skills, we assess learning by rote, sticking to outdated assessment methods. The questions in the articles are repeated in each exam cycle, creating a market for inexpensive guides to each subject. This practice further encouraged rote learning, alongside cheating on exams. As a result, we are seeing an inflation in student exam scores.
In fact, BISE’s assessments or results are not representative and in stark contrast to what our children get when they take independent tests of international standards. Pakistan first participated in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2019 as part of the Fourth Grade Mathematics and Science Study. TIMSS is a flagship program of the International Association for the Assessment of Educational Achievement. From a performance perspective, we ranked second from the bottom. The TIMSS assessment focuses not only on content knowledge, but also on a range of problem solving, application and reasoning skills.
Since our assessment system judges learning by rote rather than basic skills, it is high time to rethink and revamp the entire exam system. Our exam system fails to test because more often than not students and teachers / supervisors collude to promote unfair means during exams. We can avoid such ailments in the system by moving to the assessment of reasoning / problem solving skills instead of judging knowledge of content.
In addition, the capacity and role of examination boards must be assessed and rethought to rebuild our education system on solid foundations. Unethical practices such as cheating on the exam reflect the failure of exam boards to conduct a simple task more fairly. How then can they be trusted to make responsible and informed decisions about other academic matters? Emphasis should be placed on the development of critical thinking. The policy should reform the overall assessment system to judge basic skills instead of rote learning.
We also need to consider how to restore a learning environment in our schools in Pakistan. For example, the National Education Policy (NEP), 2009 describes that the school learning environment is a missing element in most public sector educational institutions in the country. According to the NEP âIn rural Pakistan, a five or six year old child goes to school dreading what he or she would faceâ¦ They know they may have to sit on cold ground in winter and warm in winter. summers provided they are lucky enough to have a school building otherwise the tree is the only shade available for children.
âToilets are a luxury and where some schools exist, the ratio is extremely low. Library facilities are very rudimentary and teaching materials are generally lacking. Games, sports and other extracurricular activities such as debate contests, drawing competitions, skills / arts and crafts training and cultural activities that positively contribute to the overall development of schoolchildren are absent from most schools. School infrastructure is very insufficient â.
Focusing on improving these simple and basic problems in the system can mean a lot in transforming our education system in the right direction.
The writer is an assistant professor at the Pakistan Institute for Development Economics (PIDE).
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