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Educators shares mixed feelings on reinstitution of common exams

…Class VIII will seat for the board exam on December 19

Yeshey Lhadon

Board examinations for classes VI and VIII were discontinued sometime in 2006. When the Ministry of Education (MoE) decided to reinstate the board examination after almost 16 years, educators expressed mixed opinions on the decision.

As per the MoE’s directive, the students of class VIII will sit for the board examination on December 19 along with classes X and XII students, this year. And the class VI students will appear for the common examination next year.

A primary school teacher in Samdrupjonkhar Dzongkhag said that the ministry didn’t give the teachers and students adequate time to prepare for the transition and board examination.

He said, “Because the common examination is long gone, nobody expected this to come back. Not only students but even the teachers are not ready for this decision.” 

He also claimed that his students were not happy about the ad hoc decision of MoE.

At one time, the education ministry wanted to do away with the exam for PP-VI and now suddenly they want to reset the board exam for class VI. “It’s a confusing system,” he added.

A vice-principal (VP) in one of the schools in Haa said that MoE’s decision will improve the quality of education for the time being.

However, he said, “But in the long run, Board exams will add more pressure to students and teachers.”

The VP claimed that MoE’s decision is contradictory to the researchers’ study. He said that the examination is a time test. 

Researchers claim that time tests don’t provide effective learning as it is focused more on content knowledge. Students will be focused more on memorization of the content. There will be less competency in skills and values for the learners.

Researchers said that the time-test will make students hate the subject during the mindset program in mathematics mindset research for classes PP to VIII.

However, classes PP-III follow continuous formative assessment (CFA). There’s no examination in the CFA system. Educators focus on process learning. The VP said that the educators evaluate and assess the process in the CFA system. But in the time test system, educators neglect the process of learning and focus on the end product.

He said, “We never know how much product the students can produce at the end. It will be more ineffective learning as we just focus on examinations.”

The VP said that there’s a big question on the impact that board examination will have on students’ lifelong learning process. He said, ” I am worried about how it will affect students’ lifelong learning process.”

Time tests are discouraged by researchers. But our education system is adopting it. “It’s inconvenient for the educators as we are trying to follow researchers as well as the education system,” said the VP.

“We are trying to follow what the education system is demanding but also trying to follow the experts’ research, which is contradictory, it makes the teaching-learning environment difficult,” he added.

The examination papers will be set by Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA). The evaluation will no longer be done internally by the schools.

A class teacher of class VIII said that the pattern of board examination papers might be the same and the students will not be confused.

It was just last year that the schools started a new instruction guide as directed by Department of Curriculum and Professional Development (DCPD) under Royal Education Council (REC). The schools changed the question pattern as reviewed and revised by National School Council (NSC).

“I think the students are aware of the question pattern,” said the class teacher.

A teacher said that the students are used to weekly and unit tests and students are prepared for board examinations.  She said, “I think students should be prepared for examinations anytime. We don’t think they will get excessive exam pressure.”.

“Be it a home exam or board exam, the students will have to sit for the examination, I think it’s the same, ” said a high school teacher.

Karma Galay, the Director General (DG) of the Department of School education with MoE claimed that the reinstitution of board exams is a part of education reform.

The DG said that there were no parameters to keep track of students’ academic performance so far until they reach class X. He said, “By the time students reach class X, it’s too late to intervene and correct the shortfalls of the students.”

MoE is re-introducing board exams to inculcate the culture of hard work. ” When there are common examinations, not only students but teachers and parents also tend to be mindful and work hard,” said the DG.

“Reinstating board examinations will also bring rigorous academic performance,” he added.

He also claimed that if there is a common exam, it will make things easier for primary teachers. He said, “Teachers also put effort as they know it’s a common exam.”

Some teachers shared that the reinstitution of board examinations will have a positive impact on the school’s scoring system. The reputation of any school depends on the performance of classes VI and VII assessed by BCSEA and Education Monitoring Division (EMD). 

“Since the students have to pass both a continuous assessment (CA) and exam for promotion, the students’ performances in the Board examination will affect the school’s ratings,” said a teacher.

Earlier, during the home examination, the evaluation and assessment happens within the school and educators complained of unfair marking.  The schools used to send data to the education monitoring division to rate the school. 

A teacher said, “Those data were often manipulated by the teachers and the principals.”

“If the examinations, evaluations and assessment are done centrally, there will be fairness in judging and labelling a school’s annual performance,” he added.

Some teachers expect a positive outcome from reinstituting board examinations. He said, “Teachers and students will put more effort and true effort, they will not make up anything as the effort will be seen in the outcome.”

Another primary teacher said that the board examinations will enhance the quality of education. “The common examination will only let the deserving students get through to the next grades.”

But having said that, he claimed that the system will also discourage the failing children to continue their studies and a higher dropout rate is expected.

He said, “Dropouts at this tender age can be destructive for the young children’s future as well as the future of the nation”

He added, “It will motivate the teachers to work harder in enhancing quality teaching and learning.”

One claimed that when the teachers are rated with unexpected ratings despite their efforts, it will stifle their commitments to give more to the school and welfare of education.

Another teacher said that Bhutanese education has gone under frequent changes and that it has only created confusion.

He said, “Everything is mixed in the education system at this point. There are lots of mixes and when the systems mix, nothing is going well.”

For instance, MoE focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). A teacher said that whenever the educators try to implement it in the school based on international research, then MoE is trying to change the system.

“MoE changes the education system time and again creating confusion for the educators and learners,” he added.

However, a teacher in one of the eastern regions of the country said that the education system is going backward to the old school instead of taking it forward to the future.

He said, “When the experts are saying that examination is one of the reasons for students’ stress, MoE is resuming the board exam for class VI and VIII.”

One teacher agreed that the school ratings will be fair but he questioned, ” Are the examinations done for school rating or to assess the learning index of the child?”

He believes that examinations cannot decide the score of the school. There are many other indicators from which schools are rated on academic ratings and non-academic ratings at the end of the year.

Another teacher said that people are only aware of the superficial part of the Bhutanese education system and not the inside story. He said, “The system is disrupted with many changes.”

He cited frequent changes in the education system as the reason for the low quality of education in the country and also one huge reason for attrition of the seasoned teachers despite teachers being paid handsomely. “Most of the teachers are trying to escape the confusing education system,” he said.

A teacher requested the MoE not to make the teaching and learning process and the assessments too stressful for children.

He said that as much as the teachers and educators are concerned about cognitive intelligence, they should also care about the emotional intelligence and social intelligence of young learners.

Several recent research claims that the emotional and social aspects enhance cognitive intelligence.

“When we care about a learner’s social and emotional wellbeing, they are in a better position to acquire what has been taught in the class,” said a teacher.

A teacher suggested MoE avoid bringing back what was once stopped. He said,” Instead, come up with a new strategy where both school ratings are fair and also enhance the quality of education.”

A primary teacher said that MoE should focus on building smart classes and smart schools for a better future, for the country’s future leaders. He said, “Also the ministry should reform the education system to align with the Royal Kasho.” 

The Ministry of Education announced that the ministry will reinstate board examinations for classes VIII and VI from 2022 and 2023 respectively.

The ministry advised the schools, teachers and parents to prepare accordingly.

“Bhutan’s education system has become very tight with loose ends and ideas,” said an educator.

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