An antidote to O/L Maths fiasco:
Better late than never
When I was in School I was told that of all the sciences, Mathematics
is the most precise discipline. Mathematics has been a decisive factor
in the growth of civilizations. New vistas are constantly opened to
Science. It was a mathematical formula devised by Albert Einstein E=mc2
that became the basis for the Atomic age.
Among the criticisms levelled against the Mathematics II paper of the
G.C.E. Ordinary Level, one of the serious ones was the insufficiency of
time to complete the paper.
A very large number of students were baffled with the paper and at
the conclusion of the paper they had torrents of tears dripping from
their eyes. The trauma that they were subjected to and the mentally
derailed situation would have undoubtedly affected the performances in
the subsequent papers.
Many years ago when I was a member of the panel of examiners setting
the papers in Botany for the Advanced Level Examination Mr. Wedemulla,
the then Commissioner General of Examinations summoned us to discuss
certain issues pertaining to the examination.
During the discussion I suggested that the Multiple Choice Question (M.C.Q)
paper in Botany be answered by three reputed teachers, well known for
their knowledge of the subject and teaching skills, at the same time
that the students were answering the paper.
The average mark obtained by the teachers should be considered as the
highest mark attainable by the students. My good friend from Ananda
College days the late Prof. K. D. Arudpragasam, considered my suggestion
as very frivolous.
Several years passed and when he was Vice Chairman of the National
Education Commission he suggested that one of the improvements that
could be made to check the quality of the paper was the answering of the
question papers by a few selected teachers at the same time as the
I reminded him that the same suggestion was made by me several years
back and that he had laughed at the idea. The gentleman he was, said
Question papers once set by the examination panel are moderated by
another independent examiner of the subject. His task is to check
whether the questions are reasonable, are from the syllabus and also to
see as to whether the question paper could be answered within the
I understand the system has now degraded to the extent that in
certain subjects the moderation is done by the setters themselves
negating the philosophy behind moderation. We cannot flounder on this
very important aspect.
I do hope that the examiners of the fresh paper would remember that
the examination is not solely a speed test, and that the moderation
should be done by a competent person and certainly not by the setters
themselves, The G.C.E. Ordinary Level is not a competitive examination
but only an achievement test. The pass mark should be divulged to the
candidates without keeping it a secret.
I am reliably informed that when Professor J. E. Jayasuriya, the
eminent educationalist was the moderator for the G.C.E. Ordinary Level
examination in Mathematics, he devoted considerable time to check as to
whether the questions were reasonable and he himself answered the paper
to satisfy himself that the paper could be answered within the
stipulated time by the candidates.
Today the position has faulted in several ways, so much so that men
like Pythagoras, Euclid, Archimedes and Napier, wellknown mathematicians
during early times, had they being living in Sri Lanka at the present
time would have struggled to complete the examination during the
stipulated time and might have even failed.
In conclusion I would like to state that conducting an examination
for over 500,000 candidates is a Herculean task and is bound to have
sheafs of problems. It needs fully dedicated men, a commodity which is
fast disappearing in Sri Lanka.
Further, in addition to conducting the 5th Standard Scholarship
Examination, G.C.E. Ordinary and Advanced Level Examinations the same
department conducts hordes of other examinations, for various
departments and organizations.
The feasibility of these examinations being conducted by a separate
board relieving the Department of Examinations from conducting these
examinations should receive serious consideration.
(The writer is Emeritus Professor of Botany, University of Colombo)