It was not difficult to imagine the disappointment of the candidates and their parents and teachers who were eagerly waiting by that time for results to be out. And the disappointment is not for the first time! Ministers, deputy ministers and examination department officials had reiterated many a time in the last two to three weeks that GCE A/L results would be released soon. Finally Sunday night, results were on the web but with so many mistakes.
The Minister of Higher Education informed the public through electronic media Monday night that the results were released hurriedly because the President Mahinda Rajapaks scolded them all for delaying results. That was the Minister’s explanation for incorrectness in calculation of district and national ranks.Joseph Stalin, a very attentive General Secretaryof the Ceylon Teachers Union said that “district ranks and countrywide ranks of the students of most districts could not be accepted as they were contradictory”. He gave a clear example and informed that “the District ranks of two students who had obtained B, B and C in the same subjects were 369 and 144. Their country ranks were 4,113 and 4,649. The district ranks of two other students with B, C and C in the same subjects were 278 and 405″ (The Island, December 27, 2011).
This is not an isolated incident since the examination related issues such as errors in question papers at many levels were reported by media in the recent past. Now, the same has happened in case of the GCE A/L Examination that is generally considered, rightly or wrongly, as the most important turning point in students’ life. Hence, the generation of suspicion over the examination results on the part of the students, teachers, parents and general public is unavoidable and quite legitimate.
As Stalin noted, the contradictory statements issued by the Education Minister, Higher Education Minister, Examinations Department and University Grants Commission had naturally added to the feeling of distrust and misgiving of the people not only directly affected but also others. Last Monday, I met some parents, teachers and students and they all expressed their mistrust over the examination system.A teacher came up with an interesting observation. She told me that these things are done deliberately so that the government can find an excuse to privatize holding examinations and releasing results. One may argue that this must be the immediate reaction so that mistrusts expressed may be disproportionate. However, it is not impossible to spread the mistrust as a contagion. Addressing a media conference at the Kelaniya University, Inter University Students Federation demanded the cancellation of results and re-evaluation of the answer scripts.
Hence, it is imperative to correct this situation and prevent the occurrence and recurrence of this kind of mistakes in future. However, when a suspicion over the system is established, it would be really difficult to get rid of it as it spreads like a cancer in the system. Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, the UNP MP for Kurunegala district, has informed us that “this was not the first time the present commissioner [of Examinations] had messed up the results”.He blamed, in my view justifiably, the Department of Examination for incompetency.
As Stalin has pointed out, occurrence of a similar event in a democratic country would have forced the respective Ministers and officials to resign voluntarily. It is also strange to note that in spite of the fact that a limited area of work has been assigned to each minister because of the unprecedented size of the cabinet, the intervention of the President has now become a general practice for the resolution of problems.
In my view, a serious surgery is needed to correct the situation, to avoid its recurrence and to remove the deep rooted mistrust over the system. The surgery should be invariably preceded by a correct diagnosis. Akila Viraj Kariyawasam is correct in saying that the examination mess-up or a delay of issuing results cannot be attributed to the existence of two syllabi, old and new. It was known to the examination department and to the UGC.
This demonstrates that the absence of prior planning and the projection of possible complexities. Minister Bandula Gunawardene informed Parliament a few weeks ago that he could not understand the seven line formula of Z score. Of course, the minister cannot be blamed for his failure to understand such a technical detail. Minsters are to decide on general policy framework. The formulation of Z-score and other calculation details should be assigned to experts who have knowledge on such technical matters. It seems to me that there is an over-politicization of things so that even pure technical matters are addressed by people who do not possess necessary knowledge and technical capacities.
This happened when appointments are done on political basis and the services are extended for political reasons in spite of incompetency. Now politicians have become technical experts and technical experts act as politicians. This over-politicization is extremely dangerous when it happens in subject areas like education and health.
What are immediate corrective measures that can be taken up? I submit that impartial and independent review committee should be appointed to look into the entire procedure of preparation of results. The nominees or representatives from the Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA), Ceylon Teachers Union and Inter-University Student Federation should be included. The committee should also include experts on statistics and computer programming who have the knowledge and capacity to revisit Z score formula, and the way in which it was programmed. Most importantly, the officials who are at present working in the Department of Education and the UGC should not be included in the committee.
The findings of the committee should be made available to the public in all three languages. I believe that this submission would be more fruitful than the idea expressed at the press conference of the Ministry of Higher Education on Tuesday. At the press conference it was told that individual candidates would be allowed to get their results reviewed. This will be not only a messy idea but also it would place candidates in a difficult situation.
What I have suggested is only a corrective measure. However, the surgery should include much more than this immediate step. I firmly believe that the government should revisit its entire policy framework on education and higher education since it lacks proper perspective and projection to make Sri Lanka a knowledge hub of Asia.