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Friday, June 24, 2011

GCE A/L Examination: A tool for evaluating academic standards

The Island 24/06/2011

University Academics will refrain from participating in the G.C.E. (A/L) Examination activities as the next step in their trade union action. Their aim is not to disrupt an event of national importance, but to make the government aware of the crucial role they play in maintaining high academic standards in public examinations, so that certificates obtained at these examinations in Sri Lanka (like the G.C.E. A/L and O/L) gain worldwide recognition. However, the Commissioner of Examinations has announced that the A/L Examination will commence on August 8.

He further states that the issues leading to trade union action of university academics will be resolved by September.

We wish to regard this statement by the commissioner as a good omen, but with minor modifications. The earnest desire of university academics is that their trade union action can be called off this month on reaching a satisfactorily negotiated settlement with the government, over a salary hike and other academic allowances.

The critical responsibility of setting question papers for the G.C.E. A/L Examination and undertaking the duties of Chief Examiner in the evaluation process is the exclusive privilege of university lecturers. There are exceptions in the case of courses not offered by universities, like the Malay language. This enables the Department of Examinations to maintain high academic standards, so that only the crème de la crème of candidates appearing for the examination can gain entrance to universities. The graduates of these universities can thereby set the stage for the continuation of high academic levels for future generations. Thus, the announcement by the commissioner can be interpreted as a sign of confidence that trade union action by university academics will reach a successful conclusion and they will resume duties vested in them by the Department of Examinations, in the very near future.

This is all said and done in good faith. However, it would be prudent at this juncture to analyse the consequences of non-co-operation by the academics if they are compelled to continue trade union action.

The Department of Examinations will undoubtedly find other sources in order to bring the examination activities to a close. Nevertheless, the moot point here is, can this be achieved without jeopardizing the high academic levels that were maintained throughout the years by university academics? The answer without a vestige of doubt is an emphatic NO!

They alone possess the academic prowess, training and experience to undertake the task of paving the way for those anxious Advanced Level candidates to clear a hurdle that will open the doors for future success for them. The G.C.E. A/L Examination is a tool for measuring academic standards in different fields of knowledge. It can be wielded successfully only if experts are employed. University Academics are the experts, as they have achieved distinction and honours in their respective disciplines.

The GCE (A/L) this year is enhanced by the introduction of new syllabi into the curriculum, in order to keep pace with the changes of time and fulfill the academic and professional needs of society. A series of seminars and workshops funded by the World Bank were conducted by the National Institute of Education (NIE) and the Department of Examinations for Setters and Co-setters of the question papers. They were enlightened on the requirements of the new syllabi, the competency levels that should be targeted, the proto-type question papers that have to be drafted and evaluation methods. Many months of dedicated and tireless effort by the academics, with the co-operation of selected graduate teachers, culminated in successfully designing new syllabi and model question papers that were sent to schools islandwide. The examination this year will therefore consist of parallel syllabi - Old and New.

Against this backdrop, even if the Dept. of Examinations can find the personnel to undertake setting the question papers for the old syllabus and evaluating answer scripts, it will be well-nigh impossible to discover those possessing the know-how for the latter, outside the university community. In the event of the examination being conducted notwithstanding this crucial element, the seminars and workshops that were conducted were a futile exercise and a colossal waste of funds. Further, employing non-university academics to evaluate university entrance examinations is laying a precedence that will inevitably lead to the deterioration of academic standards in public academic institutions and examinations.

These are some of the factors that the government should take into consideration before it is too late.

We wish to reiterate here that despite the pain we may cause others to bear and ourselves, due to our trade union action, the university academics are not a bunch of selfish nit-wits, who have embarked upon a campaign without deep thought and consideration of the path they should tread and its probable consequences. Our struggle is long, long overdue. It will continue until we are granted justice and the chance to live with dignity and self-respect.

Ameena Cassim,
Department of Arabic,
University of Peradeniya.