Who benefits from shifting A/L & O/L exam dates?
BY Thameenah Razeek
The competitiveness of a particular education depends on the toughness of the exam and GCE Advance and Ordinary Level examinations are really hard.
Sri Lanka provides free education up to bachelor’s degrees. GCE A/L and O/L examinations are the factors that decide one’s entry into a public university. It is a very competitive exam where only a handful of students are selected to universities. The selection criteria is based on a Z-score which is sort of a weighted average.
Students who sit for A/L exams have to wait at least a year until they are admitted to university and in a pandemic, the situation is even worse. The spread of the coronavirus has become a burning issue with the indifferent role played by the Government and other stakeholders in curbing it. A/L and O/L students have to pause studies for a while to stay at home till the results are released.
In fact in 2002, it was decided that A/L exams should be held in April each year after carefully considering factors and benefits associated. But that change was reversed and the exam dates were brought back to August in 2007.
But no matter how difficult the exam is, students are accustomed to face it successfully and the rapid changes that have taken place recently on exam days are proof of this preparedness.
But the question is in whose interest was the recent Cabinet decision was taken to hastily reschedule examinations without any discussion with the related State Ministry or the Department of Examinations.
Ministry of Education, State Ministry of Education Reforms, Open Universities and Distance Learning Promotion, State Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research and Innovation and Department of Examination are the main pillars in deciding any change, reform or amendment to the school curriculum and examinations.
Exam dates rescheduled
Cabinet recently approved Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris’s proposal to swap the months of conducting the two main examinations. Accordingly, the decision was to change the GCE Ordinary Level examination to be held in August and the GCE Advanced Level examinations in December. Even though there were several reasons to change the A/L dates, O/L dates were also proposed to be changed in the first time in history.
The crucial decision was made to provide opportunities for students to complete their higher education early and enter the job market. The Government noted that students are 19 or 20 years old by the time they complete their school education and 25 or 26 years when they finally conclude their higher studies.
But Secretary to the State Ministry of Education Reforms, Open Universities and Distance Learning Promotion Dr. M. Upali Sedara said that the decision was taken arbitrarily by the Ministry of Education. He said that no consultation was done with other state ministries or the Examination Department.
He noted that the secretary to the Education Ministry, Prof. Kapila Perera and Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris have never met the relevant state ministry secretaries in months and that the latter has no idea what is happening in the Education Ministry.
“We have never held any meeting to discuss anything related to education. We knew about the month swap of the two examinations after the Cabinet approved it. We do not know why the Education Ministry took such a decision amidst a pandemic and that it can only come to affect in 2023; by then our Ministry has planned a different reform to the Examination system,” he noted.
Expediting the process
This decision was taken due to the extended period spent on issuing A/L and O/L exam results and on delays in beginning A/L classes and the undergraduate selection process. The Education Ministry has taken several decisions to mitigate this situation in future. A decision has also been taken to restructure the syllabus of Grade 10 and 11 for one year and nine months.
Speaking on the matter, Prof. Perera noted that O/L and A/L exams will be in August and December respectively and results will be issued within three months of each exam so that the total 45 months taken at present can be reduced to a 32 month process.
“Selection of students to universities based on Z score without waiting for the conclusion of the re-correction process of the A/L examination will also be made. If there are students whose results are upgraded after the re-correction process, they will be awarded new marginal Z Scores so they can take the relevant degree courses and this method will be applied from the 2020 A/L examination,” he said.
However, showing drawbacks in the decision, Dr. Sedara pointed out that as one of the main stakeholders on deciding reforms of the Education Department, they appreciate if the Education Ministry was worried enough to consult them.
“According to what Prof. Perera has said, they are hoping to reduce the time period that a child should stay at home. But the norm is that a child will have to stay for some time till they receive the result. If we make the calculations according to Prof. Perera, the students who are sitting for GCE O/L will have to stay home till December; which is three months. Therefore, there are some changes required and we have proper plans for them,” he said anticipating that the whole syllabus for O/L or A/L will change by 2023 with the system upgraded to release results within few weeks.
Pointing out that the Education Ministry is lethargic in hold meetings with other state ministries, Dr. Sedara noted that they even complained about this to the President as duties of the Ministry and four other related ministries are not synchronising smoothly.
However, Department of Examinations Commissioner General Sanath Pujitha noted that they are prepared to hold exams at any point that the Department choses. Pujitha refused to answer whether the Examination Department’s consultation was taken in this regard. He reiterated that the Department is ready for anything the Education Ministry and State Ministry of Education Reforms, Open Universities and Distance Learning Promotion decides.
“We have to conduct examinations. Once the relevant authorities give us the green light that they have completed the syllabus, we will be ready to hold the examination. What I know is that this decision was taken to meet the disparity between the students who face London examinations and local ones,” he said.
In the meantime, Prof. Perera said that according to the current educational schedule system, students have to wait for about nine months to start A/L classes after O/L; and if they pass their A/L they will have to wait another nine months to enter university. During this time students have to stay away from their education.
Explaining that swapping the months of the main exams are very suitable for filling that void easily, Prof. Perera noted that according to the current education system, O/L exams are held in December with the results released in March.
He emphasises that a student cannot start school soon after results are released because the ones sitting for A/L that year are attending classes.
“Students who sit for the O/L examination can enter schools only after the A/L students finish their exams in August,” he said and added that the results of a student sitting for A/L is released in April. “It takes a minimum of three months and maximum of five months to re-survey the results. Only then will they be able to apply to universities. At the same time, it takes some time to determine Districts. As a remedy, the plan to O/L exams in August allows students to begin their A/L education in January the following year. Since the students who sat for A/L will not be coming to school,” he explained and pointed out that a system is also being compiled to obtain information from the Election Commission and the Department of Registration of Persons to facilitate the determination of Districts.
However, only 0.1% of applicants get to enter university after getting positive results from the re-survey. However, the action plan is to come into effect by 2023.
No matter who makes the decision, they must be made scientifically and practically and must benefit everyone in the long run. Because the decisions we make can change the future of many children in an instant. It is best not to make decisions on your own but through extensive discussions.