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Sunday, 11 January 2009

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Government Gazette

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 candidates.

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 “Did I”

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 stipulated time.

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)

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