to a newscast on any local radio or television station these days and
you are certain to come across at least one item on examination
The list of comical errors is almost endless - some examination
papers already contained the answers, others had wrong questions or
questions that were not clear, some had printing mistakes and worse,
there was even one blank paper, with just the heading.
While most of these incidents were reported from the North Central
Province, the other provinces were not immune to the malaise. The
Education Minister has already initiated a probe and we hope they would
get to the bottom of this unprecedented episode. This was an inexcusable
chain of events that psychologically affected the student body and
parents. All those officials found guilty in this regard must be
punished and the costs of printing additional (corrected) test papers
should be recovered from them ,if possible. The authorities should also
clamp down on malpractices at examinations (copying, impersonation, etc)
some of which are apparently aided and abetted by supervisory staff.
Exam blunders are not a simple matter. Students work and study
diligently for their exams, only to discover that someone has done a
major mistake with the question papers. Whoever is responsible for this
debacle, one thing is clear: there has been little or no quality control
and secrecy in the whole process of printing and distributing term test
papers by the provincial authorities.
Conducting an examination is and should be, a serious process.
Quality control is an essential aspect. The questions must be set
accurately by competent persons and secrecy must be maintained right
till they are delivered to the students. This has obviously not happened
in some cases, as certain tuition masters had discussed some questions
and papers well before the examination date. The printing too must be
first class - the questions must be legible in the first place. The
education authorities must inspect the test papers at each stage to
ensure that the finished product meets all applicable standards
vis-à-vis subject matter and language. Only then should they sanction
the papers for final distribution.
Doubts have now been raised whether competent personnel are actually
in charge of the whole process. Education is the bedrock on which the
country's future rests and no one should be allowed to darken the
children's future by actions such as these. Something appears to be
wrong with education at the provincial level. Competent persons must be
appointed to key positions in the provincial education sector.
The Central Government's Education Ministry should play a greater
role and have a greater say in education at provincial level. It is
advisable to obtain the inputs and insights of education experts at the
Education Department and the Examinations Department in the process of
conducting examinations at provincial level. We are not suggesting that
the Central Government authorities should take over functions such as
education from provincial councils as that would defeat the very purpose
for which provincial councils were created, but some form of State
regulation and intervention is necessary to ensure justice for the
students and address their woes.
Of course, question paper blunders have not been limited to
provincial examinations. There have been instances of leaks and wrong
questions even at national level examinations conducted by the
Department of Examinations.
National and Provincial education authorities should plan from now on
to avoid a repetition of this fiasco at the end of the next term.
Students should not have to pay for the omissions of officials at
Sri Lankan examinations authorities have still not got accustomed to
the notion of 'retiring' test questions. This means that 'retired'
questions are NEVER repeated at any future examination. This is simply
not done here and some questions are repeated cyclically. True, those
who set the papers have to work within the constraints imposed by a
largely unchanging syllabus, but they should be innovative enough to
frame questions in new ways. This pattern of repetition has enabled some
tuition masters to 'predict' questions with uncanny accuracy. In fact,
there was a report on a tuition master's name cropping up on a school
term test paper recently !
There was a proposal to rename the Examinations Department as the
National Education Testing Service, perhaps on the lines of the
Educational Testing Service (ETS) in the US, which conducts worldwide
examinations such as the Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
We do not know whether this has already been done, but it is a timely
and necessary move. It will enable the Examinations Department to play a
national role in examinations at schools islandwide, without necessarily
confining itself to the GCE Ordinary Level, Advanced Examinations and
other Government examinations.
The education and examination authorities must also start work on the
electronic delivery of examination papers. Computer-based and
Internet-based examinations such as the TOEFL have gained a foothold
worldwide. They are fast and above all secure, until the last minute.
The infrastructure necessary for such a project simply does not exist in
Sri Lanka at the moment, but the groundwork should be laid now. In 10
years time, it will be practicable as Internet and computer costs are
coming down daily. Besides, printing test papers for schools islandwide
costs millions of rupees and consumes tones of paper, not to mention
transport costs. All these expenses too can be reduced through
Blunders have not been confined to term test or national test papers
alone. There have been a number of instances of prescribed textbooks
that had factual errors, misspellings, wrong grammatical structures etc.
This would have a negative impact on young minds which lap up
information fast, even if they are wrong and teachers too cannot be
expected to detect all mistakes. Once textbooks are drafted, another
group of expert panellists should go through them to filter any
mistakes, edit the books and approve the final version for publication.
Teachers' input too should be obtained in drafting textbooks. A similar
process should be undertaken for important school tests. Moreover, the
education authorities should prescribe more well known literary works in
both Sinhala/Tamil and English for secondary school students apart from
the usual textbooks.
The school itself should be centre for revision prior to examinations
such as Scholarship and Ordinary Level. This function has now been taken
over by tuition masters who seem to be more innovative than their school
counterparts. They give tutorials, mock test papers and questions and
past papers so that students can gain more confidence ahead of the big
day. The schools can do this instead, at no cost to the students. It
will also benefit poorer students who cannot afford to go to tuition
classes or buy past examinations paper bundles. After all, equality for
all students is the key to a sound education.
The time has indeed come to regulate the whole tuition industry,
which is untaxed, unregulated and spiralling out of control. From
classes which promise to make you a 'wizard 'in English in one month to
those who promise an 'A' pass for a given subject at Advanced Level,
they are springing up everywhere, luring gullible students and parents.
There is absolutely no quality control over these tuition classes, not
only regarding the contents taught but also creature comforts - up to a
thousand students are sometimes crammed into a small hall with a few
fans. The qualifications of these teachers should be probed - there are
many 'Sirs' out there who do not reveal what their actual qualifications
are. Most of them have not been formally trained in teaching, which
could be different from just knowing about a particular subject.
Improving the quality of teaching at schools and developing all
schools to the level of certain main schools could be one answer to the
We hope the ongoing education reforms would address all these issues,
from examination papers to textbooks. There should be better
coordination between education authorities at provincial and national
level to make them a success.
Sri Lanka is a remarkable success story when it comes to universal
education. It is free for all from primary grades to the universities.
Our education indices are among the best in the developing world and not
far behind those of the developed world. We should strive to develop the
Eliminating unwarranted blunders that tarnish the entire education
sector will greatly help in this exercise.