Open letter to Education Minister
AS a humble educationist who is working with students and teachers closely, who is directly involved in all this transition from face-to-face teaching and learning to online mode, who can understand the pain of students, teachers, and parents, I am seriously doubting the future of our students appearing in CAIEs.
I understand March 2020, when a sudden lockdown was announced in our country, was not the time for Cambridge to make any changes in the assessment pattern therefore the best they could offer was the evidence-based assessment.
The first result announced based on past trends had its consequences and on review, Cambridge announced evidence-based results based on teacher’s assessment of the students.
The following whole year, institutions struggled to devise online teaching and learning strategies, to train teachers to work on the general mindset of parents, and to guide, monitor, and teach students on virtual plateforms.
They had to form strategies to work on the learning gaps of students with all the emotional and discipline routine imbalance.
Where students were facing internet speed and availability problems, where they were struggling with new normal created by pandemic, going through psychological trauma of losing their loved ones and isolation leading to less physical activities and social interaction resulted in depression.
Where parents were struggling to manage finances after losing jobs, arranging for devices for their children so that they can make them part of virtual teaching and learning
. Furthermore, parents were also in the process of learning to make themselves updated with this new demand of online classes to help their children.
I don’t understand what has Cambridge been doing all these months? Their solution to all the problems faced by the students was just to release random updates which not only confused the situation but it also made the situation at hand much worse.
It is very thoughtful of you, Sir, to cut down the syllabus of local exams and to delay it till May.
But what has Cambridge done in this regard? What I think is that Cambridge could have and should have provided any of the following options to a country like ours in such an unpredictable situation.
Coursework-based assessment: Why have they not yet defined any strategies? Where they can give some weightage to schools and teachers to assess students on the basis of project making, class presentation, online group or individual presentation, research, data collection through primary or secondary research methods, report writing, and so on like International Baccalaureate.
Course work and portfolio-based assessment could have been an ideal form of assessment if any country was unable to conduct exams due to a lockdown.
Syllabus modification: Cambridge has given exemption from some component, however, has not reduced the syllabus.
During this pandemic, where on-campus classes only last up to one and a half month before another lockdown is announced, with all the difficulties an institution, students, parents and teachers were facing regarding online classes along with struggling to cope up with other challenges created due to this global pandemic, Cambridge should have modified the syllabus by keeping it to basic and most important topics to maintain certain benchmarks. Cutting down the syllabus would have sighed relief to both teachers and students.
Online assessment: Cambridge could have given both online and onsite assessment options to countries.
As mostly the teaching and learning is going on virtual platforms till now, taking exams physically is not a good option.
It was not easy for the students with all these challenges to practise both modes of teaching and learning.
Taking online classes and doing past practice on papers, sending them to teachers using a cam scanner, and for teachers checking those papers with constructive feedback is not an easy task.
Why Cambridge could not define any online assessment strategy where students could have been trained only on a virtual platform?
Pakistan is a huge market for Cambridge and we truly admire their system.
This global pandemic posed difficulties also calls for reflection regarding international examination especially A levels where the teaching period is not more than nine months.
We have high hopes from our Education Minister to take concerned people from Cambridge on board and to devise more reliable and realistic strategies for the future to support our student body and also to shift their examination cycle from April/May to March to align it with our local examination to make it easy for A level students to prepare for entry tests for admission in national universities.
—The writer is an educationist based in Islamabad.