Saturday, January 28, 2012

GCE A/L - 2011 : Urgent review of results a must

Sunday Times, 22/01/2012

Open letter to Ministers of Education and Higher Education
I have watched with great pain of mind the events and developments that took place after the release of the results of the GCE A/L Examination held in 2011. Many errors and omissions in the results have been reported and a presidential committee was appointed to look into this matter. The report of this committee has now been submitted to the President.
Of the national examinations conducted in Sri Lanka, the GCE A/L examination is considered the most important and most highly competitive examination, which determines the future of our youth. Unlike in most other countries performance at this examination is the only criterion for university admission in Sri Lanka. It also serves as a barrier for admission to foreign universities and other professional/ training institutions. Over the years this examination has maintained high international standards allowing our students to gain admission to prestigious universities all over the world. I am personally aware that our students who have done well at the GCE A/L exam are performing extremely well in US universities.
Results of the GCE A/L examination this time have been openly challenged. It is essential to restore public confidence in this examination as early as possible. The whole procedure of processing marks at the Examination Department should be investigated to understand the root of the problem. Urgent action also should be taken to prevent the recurrence of such errors in the future. It must be stressed at the outset that any attempt to cover up this issue will lead to much greater repercussions and complications affecting a large number of youth in Sri Lanka. It is in this context I have been compelled to write this letter.
I was personally responsible for initiating a dialogue, appointing a committee and implementing the Z-score method to rank students for university admission when I was serving as the Secretary to the Ministry. The Z-score method is much superior to aggregates in ranking students in different streams. There are difficult low scoring subjects and relatively easy high scoring subjects at the GCE A/L exam. Z-score brings the marks of the subjects to the same level so that meaningful rankings can be worked out. It has been proved that the ranking on this basis is more fair and reliable, and it is considered the best and simplest option available to minimize discrepancies that arise due to different subjects, number of subjects, variable marking and different curricula (old syllabus/ new syllabus).
A comprehensive proposal in this regard was forwarded by Professor R.O. Thattil of the University of Peradeniya who served as the consultant to the Ministry and the UGC to implement this scheme during 2000/2001. It was successfully implemented in 2001 with two groups (one group offered 3 subjects and the other group 4 subjects) who sat the GCE A/L exam. Since then this method was in operation smoothly until 2011.
Two issues regarding the results of GCE A/L Examination held in 2011 have been highlighted.
1. Errors in district and island rankings issued by the Department of Examinations
2. Issue raised by experts regarding the formula used to calculate the Z-score
Both these issues are of equal importance and it is necessary to rectify the situation without any further delay.
I have read in the newspapers that errors in rankings are due to wrong entries and processing errors done by the Department of Examinations. It is regrettable to note that independent checks/ audits have not been carried out. Is this the way national examinations are conducted in Sri Lanka? If this is true how can we accept the accuracy of the other entries and Z-scores? All the entries and the processing steps therefore should be rechecked to confirm accuracy of the results.
Secondly, the ministries involved have not used the original consultant to work out the formula to calculate the Z-score this time. Particularly, the officials of the UGC are aware of the history of the introduction of Z-score method and the consultants originally used for this purpose. In spite of this, Professor R.O. Thattil who designed the scheme in 2001 was not included in the committee this time. According to Professor Thattil (Island January 13, 2012) the formula proposed by the new committee is incorrect complicating the A/L results issue still further.
This time the mean and variances of a subject from the old and new syllabi were pooled together to calculate the Z-score. This is a fundamental error made by the expert committee. In this type of situation two student groups should be considered as two separate populations and the Z-score for each group separately calculated. Then the average Z-scores of the three subjects can be used to rank students. This is the method we followed successfully in 2001 for the two groups (3- subjects and 4-subjects).
Unfortunately, the presidential committee appointed to look into this matter has overlooked this important issue of using a wrong formula for the calculation of Z-scores. This has affected all the Z-scores, and the rankings worked out using these erroneous Z-scores are also incorrect. Thus, Z-scores and rankings of all the streams need to be corrected.
I read in the newspapers that a teachers union is contemplating legal action against the Department of Examinations regarding this issue. If this happens, undoubtedly it will be a prolonged battle lasting for months if not years. Such action will lead to a serious situation where the results will be invalidated for some time. Then, the students who sat this examination will not be in a position to gain admission to any higher education institution in Sri Lanka or abroad for a considerable period of time. This is a harmful and serious situation affecting the future of our young generation. If this happens, it will be one of the most serious setbacks in the history of education in Sri Lanka. Therefore, all parties concerned should make a concerted effort to avoid this situation at any cost.
There is another issue which needs the attention of education authorities urgently. During 2000/2001 we initiated action to hold the A/L exam in April instead of August due to strong reasons. We arranged A/L classes to commence in schools immediately after the O/L results are released, and the A/L exam was held for the first time in April 2002. Now it has been changed to August again for the convenience of officials disregarding all the benefits of having the exam in April. Let me explain the benefits of this change.
When the A/L exam is held in August, it is not possible to begin A/L classes for the students who sat the O/L exam in December of the previous year until September the following year. As a result, these students wait for nearly nine months wasting their valuable time. Similarly after the A/L exam in August the students have to wait till October next year for admission to universities losing about two years in their prime life time. This can be avoided by commencing A/L classes in April this year and conducting the A/L exam in April 2014 and onwards. If this is implemented, those who qualify for admission to universities based on the results of this exam can be admitted to universities in the same year minimizing the waiting period. This effectively saves about two years of their prime life time, which can be profitably used in their higher education.
The following steps are strongly recommended.
1.A complete comprehensive review of all the entries and processing steps of the results of GCE A/L Exam- 2011 should be carried out in the presence of observers / experts nominated by the University Grants Commission.
2. Recalculation of Z-scores should be carried out using the correct formula employed previously in 2001 in consultation with Professor R.O. Thattil,who served as a consultant to the UGC/ Higher Education Ministry in 2001.
3. Release of the corrected results after completing (1) and (2) procedures indicated above.
4. Make necessary arrangements to conduct the GCE A/L examination in April every year with effect from 2014 and streamline the university admission process with a common academic year.
I earnestly request the two Ministers to give serious consideration to the above proposal and implement the same in the best interest of the nation.
Professor R.P. Gunawardane, Indiana State University, USA - (Formerly Secretary, Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Secretary, Higher Education and IT Development, Chairman, National Education Commission, Senior Professor & Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Peradeniya) (The writer may be contacted by Email:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Professor R P Gunawardane regarding your valuable advice which helps this country moves forward as a sound scientifically developed nation where professionals can serve people without any bias. Nation would not have a brighter future if the professionals also behave like yes men without having a backbone. It is rare to find individuals of your caliber doing such a contribution to a developing nation, you are a real asset to younger generation. Somebody has to come forward, this nation encourages such professionals of highest standards. That helps public regain confidence on education system in Sri Lanka. It is great services done to the younger generation, Sri Lankans are grateful that there are professionals come forward to rectify grave errors and show this nation correct path.