Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, November 25, 2010

Questioning the

By Jawad

“Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer.” -Charles Caleb Colton

While you nod in agreement, a question should flash in your mind, “What is the best preparation?” We have been enlightened, time and again, by our educators, helpful seniors and our parents on the best way to prepare ourselves (which, very rarely, did they follow themselves) to head onto the battle of securing marks. Yes, marks; because our education system as a whole is still dependant on whatever you receive in your answer sheets. Those digits (sometimes single) determine your grades, your standings in your group of peers, your face value in your family and society and may ultimately shape your future and your whole life. I am not necessarily talking about the marks you received in your 5th grade (when you flunked your mathematics test; I know you did) or the silly class test that sprang up without any notice. I am talking about some of the exams that life depends on: S.S.C, H.S.C., J.S.C., Primary School Certificate, A' Levels, O' Levels, SAT, entrance exams to universities. Most of the aforementioned ones are such that sitting them twice is, to a certain extent, hazardous and in a few cases, quite impossible. But is it really enough to judge the worth of a man and determine his career path with his achievements of a few hours?

Because there are conditions:
No matter how hard you have studied, no matter how much effort you have put into, if you can't deliver at the right moment, you are toast. Such is the test-based education system. But a day can go wrong for anyone. A slight 5 minute late entrance to the examination hall can make any exam-strategy go awry. We can't control traffic, or the weather, not yet anyway. You may forget to bring your wristwatch. A small mistake, but lethal in exams where time is a great factor (there are hardly any otherwise). Your best pen for writing just might exhaust in the middle of the exam; or the new one might not write as smooth as you want. The nib of the pencil may break, while you have lent the other one to a friend. The battery of the calculator or the clock may run out. The invigilator may be breathing down on your neck or staring at your answer script or talking loudly, or so quietly that you can't help straining your ears. You might just start to relax completely messing up your answers by thinking, "the exam finishes at 12, so I have plenty of time," while in reality it finishes at 11.30. There can be health hazards but as Mr Nurul Amin, teacher of a well respected school puts it, “Staying healthy is a part of the exam.” There can be many more reasons for the slightest bit of fluctuation in your concentration, and thereby a fall in grades. These are not excuses, and all these are first hand recounts of students in the age group 16-20. Yes, we like to think of ourselves as adults, yet we make some very silly mistakes.

Entrance Exams and the choices:
When the early man taught his young offspring how to hunt a deer, he tested his ability first by putting him up against a cub. We are not sure of the exact method, but it is fairly guessable that the young one was certainly pitted in an 'exam'. Thus the examination system IS the backbone of the whole education process; and effective too, in its own way.

But what do you say when you see little kids battling for a place in an educational institution without any official training beforehand? The education system in Bangladesh is not as wholesome as one would like it to be so that there are decent schools in every kilometre area with quality teachers.

Education is still, sadly, based on a few reputed institutions, in Dhaka at least. Thousands of kids of mere 5-7 years of age battle in cold mornings for a place among the limited number of seats in well-publicised schools (last year about 20 thousand did the same for only 120 seats in one school - fact, believe it), with difficult questions too. And it was for class one! How can anyone expect a student to know everything when they haven't been taught formally (by that school)? So they rely on some money-hungry coaching centres or even studies up to an older grade, just for the sake of passing the admission test of the school of choice.

The trouble resumes when they pass their H.S.C and butt their heads once again for a place in a good public university. The universities would like to get the best students; there is no doubt about that. But the objection is that the choice of subjects is also dependant on the marks achieved in the entrance exam. Now imagine a fairly good student falling victim to one of the misfortunes mentioned earlier in a one-hour long exam and getting a lower position and as a result missing out on his subject of choice. One hour? Shaping one's life? Unfair, you should say.

Steps that are taken, steps that should be taken:
The situation is dire in case of students trying to get admitted into a school in class one. No matter what anyone says about the usefulness of exams, it can't be denied that putting little kids through the ordeal is very unfair and unhealthy. But a recent step by the Government must be applauded. The 24 Government-run schools and a few well reputed non-government ones have decided to use the lottery system to get the students admitted. Fine and dandy it is. But what about the students not selected? Establishing quality schools and training a great number of good teachers so that the parents are not inclined to a handful of schools, have become musts.

Effectiveness of examinations has been questioned throughout the time. But no such method has been discovered that can replace it. So, hard though it may seem, we have to bear with it. But we can certainly hope for some favours for us students.

Talking about the examination system inadvertently brings about the education system in the mix. But that's for a later time. In the mean time, good luck to all the examinees and congratulations to those who are/will be successful and commiserations to the others.





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