Examination reforms – womeneducationists take the plunge

By Zubeida Mustafa

A QUIET revolution in the examination system has already takenplace In one of the leading girls schools of Karachi.With teaching experience of over acentury behind them, aband of devoted women educationists with amissionary zeal have taken the plunge and introduced changes inthe mode of examination which from our standards can be described as really radical.

Talking to the principal of this school, one of the oldest in Karachi which has over 2,000students an Its rolls, I realized what a challenge it must have been to plan, organise and implement the new exam system which is now in its fourth year running.

Although the education policy announced in 1972had recommended the abolition of annual examinations in school, none of the educational institutions ventured to carryout the recommendation.For years, educationists have been expressing their dissatisfaction at the prevailing method of examining students at the end of the academic year. The objections raised are now quite familiar: The traditional system places too much emphasis on memory rather than assimilation of knowledge, creative thinking and analytical capacity. After all, a single test on the entire syllabusis quite an illogical and deficient method of appraising a student’s academic achievements.

But these objections had come to acquire the form of a ritual for none felt fully equipped orduly confident to undertake a bold experiment in this field until, of course, one school, andthat, too, a school for girls, run by women educationists, decided

to break fresh ground.


Now that she has departed from the traditional courses, the principal of the school feels extremely satisfied with the results. Under the new system,the-work of every-student, isevaluated on the basis of periodictests (approximately five every term, which works out to an average of a test every month in every subject) andher class-work. In fact the institution of the much dreadedannual examination, which canunnerve even the best of students,has been done awaywith altogether.

It took nearly a year of planning, discussing, debating and organising before the new system was finally introduced in 1974. Even then the final decision was implemented not so much as a step towards radical reform but as a pragmatic measure to meet the practical needs arising from the announcement of the education authorities to advance the school term which cut down the academic year drastically.

Obviously the courses laid down in the curricula could not be completed and it was more sensible to test the girls on whatever hey studied on an ad hoc basis as they went along. The instant success of the QJW scheme was a source of great encouragement and once it was introduced there was simply no looking back.And no/w periodic evaluation is taken for granted.


The major advantage of this method of periodic evaluation, according to this woman educationist who has tried it out, is that it gives more accurate results while motivating the child to work steadily rather than by fits and starts. By keeping are cord of the year-round progress of her pupils, a teacher can assess the real worth of each and every student.

Thus a child who has been doing well in her studies might be handicapped by anIllness just before her annualexamination which could producea poor report card.Similarly a youngster who isquick in committing to memorywhat she does not even understandand who might nothave otherwise devoted muchtime and concentration to herbooks might emerge with flying colours. But under the tests systemsuch possibilities are eliminated,in case of a genuine causefor absence, the teachers havebeen instructed to give a studentwho has missed a test anotherchance.


Another meritof this scheme is that it keepsthe parents fully informed abouttheir daughter’s progressin class since all test copieshave to be signed by themeach time a test is held. Thisis a more realistic approachand has received greater, appreciation

than the system underwhich the parents come toknow about their child’s achievementsor failures only after

the term has come to an endand the report card is senthome. And then not much canbe done about it anyway.

I* a pupil is not making satisfactoryprogress, the periodictests come as a warningsignal that positive measures

are needed to boost the child’sperformance. This is more inkeeping with the scientific methodsbeing evolved in countries

with a better developededucation system where thekey to the all-round developmentof a child’s personalityis considered to be close cooperationbetween the parentsand teachers.


But, canother schools emulate thisexample successfully? Thebasic requisite for a systemof periodic evaluation, if it isto be accurate and honest, is a healthy tutor-pupil relationship.This depends essentiallyon the quality of teaching andthe number of teachers youhave. Since in this particularcase, which I went to observe,there are no major problemsso far as teachers go, the testshave worked successfully.Most teachers are dedicated.hardworking and many of themhave a long record ol teaching experience. The average teacher-pupil ratio is 1:40, which isvery reasonable according toour standards. But this, ofcourse, can be maintained onlyby restricting the number ofstudents admitted.Other schools can also adoptthis system successfully provided a teacher does not havevery large classes because inthat case it will be impossiblefor her to really assess eachand every pupil.

Large classesshould be divided into groupsbecause It is not good for ateacher either, my interviewee insisted, that she should attendto so many children at thesame time as to be unable togive the individual attention since the teacher herself wouldnot get the feedback so essentialto help her in planning thelessons.


Has thenew system yielded tangible resultsin the public examinationsthe students have to take in Classes IX and X? It istoo early to say, she replied.In the first place, the newscheme has been in operation for only four years which isnot a very long period — beingeven less than half of theschool years.

Secondly, at the higherlevel, that is in classes IX andX, the old system still operateswhich means that the students have to be graduallyreoriented towards an annualexamination as they enter thehigher classes.

In the years to come, my intervieweeobserved, as thenew system of internal evaluation-cum-annual examination introduced bv the KarachiBoard of Secondary Education is fully implemented, the studentswho are used to periodic tests will no doubt findthemselves at an advantage


In our tradition-riddenconservative, societyany innovation meets moreoften than not strong resistance.How did this school getaway with such a radicalchange, I wondered. But thenit came as no surprise when Jwas informed that initiallythere had been some resistanceand some criticism too.Not from the teachers, who have always had to devote a lot of time to checking andorrecting copies.For them the work load remainedthe same, althoughthe nature of work changedin one way they are better off — no more examinationscripts running into pages after pages to mark. The resistancecame from some parents— the ones who do nottake their child’s schoolingseriously enough to insist onpunctuality and regularity inattendance. On the slightest pretext then* daughter is keptaway from school and whenthis means a missed test, myinterviewee informed me, theyobviously resent the new examinationsystem.

But over the years, mostparents have come round toappreciating the merits of asystem which does not requiretheir child to memorise pagesafter pages for a three-hourtest paper on which dependsher ultimate success or failure.