Saturday, March 10, 2012

Allow Internet Access in Pakistani Examination System

Published on blogs on April 30, 2012

Use of anything like keynotes, books or calculators is considered as cheating during examination. Denmark, up to most surprise, has tried to break up this stereotype thinking and conducted the experiment by allowing the students to have access to the internet during ‘A level’ examination.  In a debate on BBC almost 70% of the participants declared it as cheating. Is it really cheating? What is the purpose of our stereotype exams? What hurdles could we face to conduct this type of experiment in Pakistan?

For more than a century, purpose of the examination has remained to test the student’s ability how he can perform in practical life. What he knows and how he can use them? As the education and examination system was build in the era when there was less availability of facts and figures and one has to rely more and more on his memory to solve the problems? So the examination systems were developed with the purpose to test the memory of the student. With the passage of time, technology has entered in daily life usage and people rely very less on memory and use the artificial memory of computer and internet to store facts and figures and use them with better effect for practical life but the examination systems are still carrying the old age idea.  So with each passing day, abilities require for practical life are going away from what are tested in current examinations. So it is highly required to remove the gap..

In professional life only hurdle that a person face during any task, is of time. No one declare him cheater if he consults some book or internet and perform the task in time. Idea to memorize all the facts and figure was also come from saving the time. Getting all the facts and figures from the internet also do not take time if properly searched. So only task remained is to properly use those facts and figures to perform the real task. In this way allowing internet access in examinations can check the student in the better way for the professional life.

Most of the Pakistani students just like students all over the world, use internet for learning and improving their skills. According to e-Learning Foundation pupils who use computer at home perform better. If in routine life students and professionals use internet for better results so testing the students without the use of internet doesn’t carry enough weight. Pakistan just like Denmark should experiment in its examination systems by allowing the internet access. 

Allowing the resources in the exams is not a new concept. Allowing the internet access is just a new form of open book tests.  According to Mark GE, Witney, UK in BBC report, “Use of the internet is the same as any open book exam; the pupil can check formulae or dates, but how they use and interpret that data is (should be) what is being tested”. Although not standard but open book tests are quite common in some Pakistani universities. So there is a room for this type of tests to be experimented in Pakistan. But to experiment them in secondary and secondary exams require total change of mindset as main stream educationist have even never liked open book tests in Pakistan.

Problem in current Pakistan education system is the cramming of subjects to get more and more marks. This is encouraged when student is asked to reproduce the content of the text book. According to the view of US educational psychologist Joseph Renzulli , current examination system all over the world is based on three Rs “ram, remember, regurgitate”. As a result student focuses less on understanding and more on cramming. Most of the psychologists also agree that the one who uses the facts to make something new are far better than who just remember them. Bringing internet in examination can change the dimension overall because exams will not require to reproduce as everyone will expect the exact copy of textbook by the student. So it gives the hint that it can end cramming of the subjects from Pakistani education system if properly implemented.

One of the arguments mostly presented against this idea on BBC debate was that it will make the tests very easy. This is not true and in reality makes the tests harder. First of all finding the exact location from the ocean of internet data takes time and test will remain time dependant. After getting the facts students will have to use them within the remaining time. So by no mean these tests can be called easy.

Fear of plagiarism also stops from carrying out this experiment. Already in Pakistan, cheating during examinations is touching the sky.  Technology provides the solution here as well. HEC Pakistan is already using anti-plagiarism software to detect plagiarism in research papers. Anti- plagiarism softwares are enough to detect if the cheating. Second if the examination papers are made according to the need of open internet exams, no one will be able to cheat as nothing will be required to reproduce.  

There are many problems that can come in experimenting open internet papers especially within Pakistan.  Unavailability of electricity and computers can stop from conducting this experiment.  No one in Pakistan can give the solution to these problems.  Another problem that is also hard to solve is the help of someone to the student via emails or social networking sites. There is no solution for that other than the strict monitoring of students during papers.

Don’t forget that biggest voice that can come against the open-internet examination will be from teachers who make the examination papers. Preparing the question paper for the memory test is far easier.  Second each time, they will not be able to regenerate the paper again as copies of last time test will be available over internet. So the stereotype teachers will never like this idea as they will have to do a lot more work than currently what they are doing.

To summarize all of the above I would say, current era requires modification in the examination system. Open internet papers provide the solution but implementing them all over Pakistan is currently not possible due to number of problems. Still wherever possible, this should be experimented as lots of better results are expected from this idea and students will be more prepared for the professional life of modern time.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Please define the purpose of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education in Pakistan

Updated version of my earlier blog, and is published in blogs on 30th April, 2012

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in School”, said by the world renowned genius, Albert Einstein. What he understands a century ago, unfortunately we as a Pakistani nation are still unable to understand it. Education at secondary and higher secondary level provides a back bone to one’s higher education, literary or professional life. Why lower educational system in Pakistan, is not providing necessary tools to the students? Why more and more students are going toward madrassa education system and leaving secondary education of Pakistan? Why drop out ratio from school is highest these days? These are the questions of today. These could be due to the lack of any purpose of SSC and HSSC defined by the government and the policy makers.

In order to cope with the ever increasing threat of number of madrassas in Pakistan, secondary education system has to be carefully revived in-order to make it useful. Efforts of modernizing the madrasa system have failed so it is time to raise the standard of secondary education. Most of the madrassa tutors attract the young generation by showing the uselessness of Pakistani secondary education and later these boys with full of anger against normal education turn violent and recruited by the talibans.

Education at secondary and higher secondary level is purposeless. Have a look at this recent example that has been popped up over the social media “facebook”. 

In this story a boy even with 90% marks in SSC still not able to find a decent job for his livelihood. He done what has been told so far “work hard, get good marks and get a decent job”. He did work hard, get good marks but due to lack of funds, he is not able to study further and this certificate alone is not letting him to get a decent job to fund his own education. He is finding the job of “helper” after getting 90+% marks. How our system stop students like him to become angry against so called worldly education. Why they will not be attracted by the madrassa where they get money to carry on with their lifes. How you will stop the madrassa people who will portray him as example of uselessness of secondary education to attract more students toward them?

Attraction of foreign certificates is also prompting the uselessness of our certifications. Examples of Arfa Kareem, Sakandar Mahmood Baloch and Mauhib Iqbal are enough to show. With these certifications not only they can work for themselves, they are also getting the job even as teachers in universities. Why? Because they can make some softwares and can sell them to earn money. Purpose of those certifications is clear cut. Whereas a child who got the secondary or higher secondary education doesn’t know what he can do and with this certification alone, he is unable to do anything and as a result most probably he will leave for education in madrassa where he can learn whatever they will teach as well as get the basic bread of his daily life.

Only purpose that comes to mind of our secondary education is to score more and more marks to get admission at University.  This is encouraging people to cram, worship what they are learning and reproduce what is written in their books. Pluto once told that "Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind”. Now if someone unfortunately not able to get education at higher level, his 10 to 12 years of education will not be able to feed him with this certification only. At the same time universities are not believing on the secondary education certificates and requiring NTS GAT or SAT test as the entrance requirement of the university. These are also making secondary school certificates even more useless as after getting marks in SSC students will have to score good marks in entry tests as well otherwise they will have no hope.

Subject books at the school and college level of Pakistan are stuffed with too many disconnected topics. Similarly the number of compulsory subjects at this level is too large. The idea behind this is that student should know each and every topic in the universe at this level. Policy makers fail to realize that “A mind is a fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled--By Plutarch”. As a result, student, leaves the critical thinking which should be the prime focus at this point and began to cram as he always remain overloaded with too many subjects and too many topics within each subject. Although very few of these, help them in their higher education but at that time students are unable to remember what they had studied in schools. Considering that secondary education can bring the love for books or reading habit in the student is wrong as well. Too many subjects and race for getting more marks keep them so much busy that mostly 99% student do not study books other than textbook. In the end neither the too many subjects nor the more marks in the secondary education help them in their career and life.

If we assume that secondary education is making student to be a critical thinker than it is not true. Students are taught to learn in the similar way as the mullah teaches the Quran. Student has no right to question the correctness of the answer provided by the textbook writers. The answer at the end of textbook are correct as per the policy of secondary education but in real world nothing is in white and black only vocational skill can be taught in this manner but vocational skills are not the part of our secondary education system. If someone doesn’t like the answers of the book he has no choice other than to cram them. This becomes more obvious when a student after scoring high marks or grades enter into the university. Whenever he is required to write a paragraph on some argument that you agree or disagree with it, mostly he fails but if you give him a chapter to reproduce he can reproduce it very easily.

Secondary education is disconnected not only with the higher education as well as with vocational education.  Even if a Pakistani student scores highest mark in Matric or FSC, alone with these certificates he is not able to work or get a decent job. Vocational education should be the part of secondary education. If due to some reason, student fails to study further, he should be able to earn decent money through his vocational skill. Second these vocational skills will also help them in higher education as well. He can become a better engineer if he will have the sub-engineering skills right from the secondary education. A medical doctor can help his patients in a better way if he has the skill and experience as a nurse in his secondary education.  But these should be introduced in the manner that helps the student rather than just increasing the number of subjects.

Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has launched the program for International Student Assessment (PISA). They check the student at secondary education level worldwide on mostly three basis points, mathematical skill, reading skills and some basic science skill. We should also look at their work why according to them only these skills are more than enough than many subjects we use to teach our students. The obvious answer is, these are the only skills which help the student in his higher studies. 

In conclusion, I would say it is high time to look at the usefulness of our secondary education. Our secondary education is not fulfilling the need of the educational and labor market. It should bring some vocational skills at least with it so that the one, who is unable to get the higher education, should be able to get some work through his secondary or higher secondary school certifications. So purpose must be defined properly. It will not only stop the wastage of prime time of our children but also stop the majority of people from going to madrassas as they will find some benefit in the worldly education.