• Thursday, Apr 25, 2019
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Frequent experiments fuel fluctuation in SSC pass rates

  • Published at 02:01 am May 24th, 2018
Creative questions were introduced in the SSC exams to eliminate the culture of memorizing and cheating, but a government study found that 34.5% of SSC candidates failed to understand the questionsMehedi Hasan
File photo of students during an HSC exam at a school in Dhaka Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Academics blame changes to textbooks, exam formats, and evaluation mechanisms for the fluctuations

The fact that Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examinations have gone through so many experiments since 1990 explains why pass rates fluctuate, according to academics and experts.

They said the introduction of new textbooks, rules, exam formats, and evaluation mechanisms interrupted the steadiness as none of these changes were made following any authentic research. 

M Kaikobad, a professor of computer science and engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said: “SSC results are erratic in our country as we bring too many changes in the system.

“Since 1.5-2 million students are involved in a process, the results and pass rate should not be destabilized. Students and parents are losing faith in the education system due to so many experiments. 

“Besides, we implement changes without proper study and research. Taking decisions on an ad hoc basis is not right.”  

However, Robiul Kabir Chowdhury, senior specialist (exams and evaluations) of the Bangladesh Examination Development Unit under Dhaka Education Board, said the government introduced “creative question” system during SSC exams in 2010. 

In 2012, the government introduced a new curriculum. Since then there has been little fluctuation in the pass rate of SSC results, he added. 

Rabiul further said: “There are a number of factors responsible for result fluctuation like whether the questions were prepared as per the merit of students, marking of the answer scripts, and environment of the exam hall. But the most vital reason is that we do not follow the ‘scaled score’, a standardized system used worldwide while publishing the results of any public exam.”

“In our country, the questions in public exams are uneven and results are published based on the raw score, resulting in fluctuating pass rates. In a scaled score system, results are published in a balanced way considering all factors. The grade marks often change following the impacts of those factors so that there is consistency in results,” he explained.   

Introducing MCQs

According to sources, the government introduced a multiple choice question (MCQ) section worth 50 marks in the SSC exam system in the 1990s. The questions were taken from a fixed question bank consisting of 500 MCQs.

As it was introduced without piloting, observation, and research, the results saw high pass rates for several years. The market was flooded with guidebooks during that period.

Dhaka University’s Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Chowdhury said: “When MCQs were introduced we saw a massive rise in the pass rate of SSC exams in the early 90s. It happened due to the MCQ question bank which led to the students not reading textbooks.

“Later, the authorities withdrew the question bank, but both students and teachers are still dependent on guidebooks and notebooks.”   

Academic Shyamoli Nasrin Chowdhury said: “One of the main objectives of introducing the MCQ section is to encourage students to read textbooks. However, the objective is being hampered due to guidebooks in the market.” 

She said the performance of schools and teachers also influence the students’ results. “Most of the schools lack effective and dedicated teachers,” she lamented. 

Creative questions, destructive symptoms 

The government introduced “creative question system” at the secondary level to cultivate and evaluate the creativity of students. The system was designed to eliminate the culture of memorizing and cheating. But a government survey later found that 34.5% students failed to understand creative questions.

According to the Impact Assessment Survey Report on Secondary Education Sector Development Project (SESDP) released by the Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) under the Planning Ministry, 59.8% of students thought they require private tutoring to understand creative questions properly while the rest felt otherwise.  

Another report by the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education said over 50% teachers were unable to prepare creative questions. Another 30.89% of them required support from their colleagues to prepare the questions, and 21.17% outsourced the preparation of creative questions. 

Prof Serajul said: “The creative question system has no connection with textbooks. It is harmful to the education system. Those who were benefited by the system were coaching centres and guidebook publishers. 

“Neither students nor teachers can comprehend the creative question method which led to dependency. Those who encouraged it should be held accountable,” Prof Serajul said.

Dr Waheduzzaman, director general of Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, refuted the objections to the creative question method: “Whenever anything is introduced, there will be some people who say the previous method was better.

“It is difficult to prepare questions and evaluate answers creatively, so teachers often depend on readymade questions. But we are working to change things,” he said.   

New evaluation system 

The education ministry introduced a new assessment scheme for grading answer scripts last year since many students and guardians objected to the evaluation of answer scripts under the traditional system. 

A high official of the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Dhaka, said they found significant discrimination in marking answer scripts. 

“Many students get high marks even if they do not answer properly, while many others do not achieve desirable marks even after writing properly. The new evaluation system has been introduced to eradicate such discrimination,” said the official, seeking anonymity. 

The official further said one of the reasons behind this year’s result drop was the new system for evaluating answer scripts. 

According to the education ministry, the new system introduced the concept of ‘model answers’ to remove discrimination in marking the papers. 

Teachers across the country were provided with guidelines for script evaluation. Expert panels prepared the guideline for each subject. The examiners were bound to follow the guidelines during evaluating answer scripts, sources said. 

“The new evaluation system, applied this year to ensure quality answer paper assessment, is a basic cause of decline in the pass rate,” said Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid.