No 'Secret Garden'
"The O'Level and A'Level students
in Bangladesh work hard and have some fantastic results. But there
is also a dire need of qualified English teachers."
Deputy Managing Director of Edexcel International
By Tahmina Shafique
medium students are quite familiar with Edexcel International,
a body that conducts examinations in more than a hundred countries.
Elizabeth Lowen, the deputy managing director of Edexcel International
on a recent visit to Bangladesh shared her knowledge on how the
O'level and A'level examinations are being conducted.
Shafique(TS): When did Edexcel take over responsibility for administering
the O'Level and A'Level examinations worldwide?
Lowen(EL): Well, Edexcel doesn't actually administer the examinations,
we leave it to British Council. Because we have a system of operating
private candidates through British Council, we have the ability
to control private candidates in large scales. We have also opened
up our possibilities to schools and enrolled them under the UK
Could you give us some idea about the rationale behind the grading
policy adopted by Edexcel. Unlike earlier examinations the marks
are now available, why was this change made?
I felt the need of this policy when I was doing my masters in
Education. As an Examination Board we are accountable to the parents,
students and the teachers. In earlier times, when there were many
examination boards, which were run by Universities, our system
of process and procedures, were kept secret. The schools were
given a very small syllabus and asked to get on with that. Furthermore,
the marking criteria were kept secret as well. A famous professor
once called this procedure 'A secret garden' and we wanted to
open that garden. We wanted teachers and students to be fully
aware of what is expected, what will be the criteria the student's
will be assessed upon and what marks will be awarded.
Is there any difference between the syllabus and examinations
of Edexcel International in the UK and overseas countries?
There isn't any difference at all. There is only one syllabus
and the same question paper for all students worldwide. It is
because we have the same question paper, the
timings, of for example Bangladesh, are pushed forward so that all
of the exams in each geographical segment take place at the same
time. This system has been especially implemented because of the
advantage of the instant communication system that exists in today's
time. However, I would like to express my appreciation to the Bangladeshi
students who act honorably and follow each and every rule as they
are expected to do.
TS: So is there any discrepancy
in the grading system in say, UK and in the other countries?
EL: Not at all. All papers are
checked keeping in mind the fact that they are all students irrespective
of which region they belong to. Besides, we only have the candidate
number and centre number on the answer script and there is no
way that the examiner would actually differentiate the marking
system. Over that they practically don't have any time to take
into account so many factors as each of them has almost 300 to
400 papers to mark.
TS: There has been some controversy
around the issue of misplacements of results. As the story goes-
a student got A's despite being absent. Could you please unfold
EL: The entire incident was an
error on our part and something about which I am not at all happy.
If we look at the other side we have 15 million marks to operate
in our system in each session and we try really hard to avoid
such errors. However, unfortunately this time the absent was confused
with an A and the candidate got an A because of this misplacement.
TS: So are you taking any actions
to avoid such errors in future?
EL: As soon as we were aware of
it, we checked our records. We had to ensure that the information
was correct and since we have all of the examination scripts stored
in London it was easy to find out the error. In order to avoid
such errors in future we have joined a company called Peers and
Education which is a very large educational organisation involved
in publishing Penguin editions and also involved with technological
marking and processing. In this way we don't have any manual intervention
and hence there is less possibility of errors. We have two electronic
systems that would match names and marks. All these steps have
been taken because we understand that the entire examination has
personal and emotional impact on students and we try our best
to do justice to each of these students who deserve the best system
TS: How do the results in Bangladesh
compare with results abroad?
EL: Bangladesh has some fantastic
results and I was immensely pleased by the outstanding results
of the Bangladeshi students whom I met during the Daily Star Award
giving programme. Besides that they all looked so confident and
enthusiastic while receiving the awards. I know that these students
work very hard and seek great goals and achievements. It is truly
appreciable to see these students working so hard and so determined
to obtain an internationally recognised qualification.
TS: As the deputy-managing director
of Edexcel International, you have visited many schools in Bangladesh,
what is your impression?
EL: Well I feel that the schools
in Bangladesh have some terrible conditions for both teachers
and students. There is also a dire need of good, qualified English
teachers. The schools need to train up teachers. However, some
schools are investing on their premises and providing an integrated
environment for students. So it's just not teaching, they also
have extra curricular activities such as sports, debate etc.
TS: So, what does Edexcel have
at its disposal to train teachers and meet the dire need that
exists in Bangladesh?
EL: Well, we do have a programme
to provide training to teachers. Our teachers come here and train
others. If you are talking about the training across the board,
we would love to do that but we need funding for that. The British
Council is providing various kinds of training as well.
TS: Do you have suggestions about
how to make our students more creative?
EL: Our English language paper
is now being designed in a way that would grow more interest in
the students. We are providing more creative writings which concern
reading and understanding rather than learning by heart. The students
get marks according to the level of their very own creativity.
I would suggest students to enjoy watching English educational
programmes, news, reading interesting magazines and current events
rather than those fat, boring books!
TS: According to you what are
the benefits derived from the English Educational System and being
under the Edexcel System for Bangladeshi students?
EL: Well, English in itself is
an international language and is the language of business. It
would definitely open up wider opportunities for all these bright
Bangladeshi students. At the end of it all they would be able
to communicate worldwide and achieve the highest and most successful
The Edexcel System offers a standard
syllabus, which provides the candidate a good base with a very
detailed knowledge about each of the subject areas. Our assessment
criteria are also very standard and develop every aspect required
in the future fields. Another important feature is the fact that
the qualifications can be transferred. In other words when Bangladeshi
students obtain the UK qualification from here, they have the
choice of studying here or abroad, but whatever qualification
they acquire from our system, they can bring it back to this country
and reinvest it here.
Tahmina Shafique is editorial
assistant at the Society for Environment and Human Development