Committee of Inquiry suggests analgesic instead of the much needed surgery

Aggrieved students sadder and poorer with little or no hope of an overall re-correction

The findings of the Committee appointed to inquire into the 2011 Advanced Level (A/L) examination errors was submitted to the President this week, but teachers, parents and students threaten to take legal action, if the Education Ministry does not go for an overall re-correction.

According to the Presidential Secretariat, the Committee has recommended that the Examinations Department address complaints with regard to the 2011 GCE A/L exam with extra concern and caution, to restore the credibility of the department, and to establish a special help line to receive all the complaints and to respond to them.

The Committee has found that the error in calculating the district rankings had been caused at the last stage (processing stage), and not at the stage of entering data, and the officers responsible had not taken adequate steps to avoid the causes that contributed to the error.

The Committee has also suggested that an independent process audit should be carried out to provide for continuous improvements of the entire examination process ideally carried out by the Ministry of Education.

“Given the reliance of the University Grants Commission on the results of the A/L exam for university admission, the formula to be used in determining the common indicator (the use of the Z-score calculation) should be decided by the Commission, after careful and wide consultations,” the Committee has recommended.

The Committee has also suggested the need to take several steps to enhance the capacity of the department to handle the technology related functions of the department. “As an immediate measure, the services of a consultant should be obtained to provide advice on technology related matters. Every revision of a computer programme and data processing should be double checked, verified and validated before implementation”.

The Committee has requested that the cadre and financial provision required by the department of examinations be provided to ensure optimum efficiency.

Inquiries conducted regarding the specific appeals made by the candidates, in response to the public call by the Committee, have been examined. The report was compiled by the Secretary- Ministry of Technological Research, Dhara Wijethilake as the chairperson, Vice Chancellor- Colombo University, Prof. Kshanika Hirimburegama, Vice Chancellor- University of Moratuwa, Prof. Ananda Jayawardena, Vice Chancellor- University of Uva Wellassa, Prof. Ranjith Premalal de Silva and Principal- Royal College, Upali Gunasekera.

“The Committee should have halted the results until the inquiry is over. They indirectly encouraged the collection of money from desperate students. Out of the 239,000 students who sat for the A/L’s, about 100,000 students applied for re-correction, at Rs 250 per subject. The Committee has failed to address the inconvenience caused to the students, and that, they have to pay for the error by the department,” said President- Teacher’s Union, Joseph Stalin.

He said the students who sat for the 2011 A/L exam, had to go through the same mental trauma in 2007, when they had to re-sit for the Ordinary Level Maths paper “The Committee did not consist of any former examination commissioners, despite seven of them being still alive. They even failed to include the expert who introduced the Z-score calculations, and a representative from the A/L teachers who understand the students mental pressure, “he said,

He said the students sitting for the A/L exams in 2012, have lost faith in the Examinations department’s correction of answer scripts, with students who can afford, opting to sit for the London A/Ls, while others hope to complete foundation programmes and enter Degree level, instead of sitting for A/Ls.
“It is students from low income families who will have to suffer for the errors made by the Education authorities,” he said.

Mr. Stalin said the union and parents have agreed to take legal action, if the Education Ministry does not go for an overall re-correction.

Former Exams Chief taken to task

By Bandula Sirimanna

The GCE A/L 2011 Exam results fiasco was a direct result of corrupt practices, arbitrary actions and mismanagement by the former Commissioner General of Examinations’, during his five-year tenure, Sri Lanka’s senior academics, trade union members, university and school teachers alleged at a protest meeting held at the Colombo Public Library auditorium on Wednesday.

Prof. Thattil explaining the Z Score at the Public library. Pic by Susantha Liyanawatte

This was not an isolated incident, as examination related issues such as errors in question papers at many levels were reported by the media in the recent past, they said at the meeting called to focus attention on the results’ debacle. Now, the same has happened at the GCE A/L Examination which is considered the most important juncture in a student’s life.

Therefore, suspicion over examination results among students, teachers, parents and the general public is unavoidable and quite legitimate, they said. Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya of the University of Colombo told the gathering of academics, trade union members, university and school teachers, parents, students and journalists, that the former Commissioner General should be held accountable for everything he had done in the past, which was aimed at pleasing government politicians for his survival at the top.

He called upon an ‘anesthetised’ society to rise against the biggest crime committed against students, for seriously jeopardising their future. The former official played with the innocent students’ lives, taking measures to release examination results speedily, and boasting about it. Except government politicians, nobody else, including students, asked him to release results quickly

Prof. Wijesuriya accused the former Commissioner General of meddling with the GCE A/L results at the requests of top politicians and said his conduct was a disgrace to the top post he held for five years.
He suggested that no Commissioner General should be allowed to continue in that post for more than five years.

“If public servants are allowed to continue in their top posts for over five years, it will give them enough space to resort to corrupt practices. That is why, under the previous administration system in the country, the term of office of the ruling party was confined to five years,” he said.

The preparation and standardisation of question papers, selection of examiners, invigilators and all other functions of examinations were handled by the former Commissioner General according to his whims and fancies. “He acted like a political stooge,” Prof. Wijesuriya said. Citing an example, he disclosed that the former Exams Chief entrusted the task of preparing the Drama & Theatre question paper to an ailing, 80-year-old veteran artiste, violating all procedures.

Prof. Wijesuriya demanded the cancellation of the results and re-evaluation of the answer scripts.
It is imperative to correct this situation and prevent the recurrence of these kinds of mistakes in future.
“However, when a suspicion over the system is established, it would be really difficult to get rid of it, as it spreads like a cancer within the system,” he said.

The Examinations Department is severely politicised, so that, even highly technical matters are tackled by people who do not possess the necessary knowledge and technical capabilities.

Appointments are made and services extended purely for political reasons, despite their incompetence.
Now politicians have become technical experts, while technical experts act as politicians. “This severe politicisation is extremely dangerous in subject areas such as Education and Health,” he added.
Prof. Raphel O. Thattil of the Peradeniya University, who introduced the ‘Z’ score to Sri Lanka, said that he was not consulted when devising a formula to calculate the Z score for the GCE A/L Examination 2011.

He was also not summoned before the Committee appointed to probe the results fiasco. Prof. Thattil said he is ready to appear in courts as an expert witness for the benefit of innocent students, if a case is filed challenging the 2011 GCE A/L Exam results. He pointed out that, calculating the ‘Z’ score by getting separate variance and mean values, and adding them up for both groups of students, was wrong.

“These experts have tried to combine something that needs to be analyzed separately. That was the reason why ‘Z’ scores are wrong,” he observed. Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri of the University of Colombo said that the contradictory statements issued by the Education Minister, Higher Education Minister, Examinations Department and University Grants Commission had naturally added fuel to the fire of distrust and misgivings of the people, not only those directly affected, but also others countrywide.
“This was a grave mistake, and the officials cannot be pardoned for this gross negligence and irresponsible actions damaging the trust and confidence of the people in our examination system.”

“If a similar thing happens in any other country, the minister responsible for the subject will definitely resign. But in Sri Lanka, the Education Minister is holding onto his post, claiming that he is donating his salary to a government programme, and he is not using an official residence.” “This is the mentality of the minister in charge of the subject,” he said.

“Education Minister Bandula Gunawardene informed Parliament recently that he could not understand the seven line formula of the ‘Z’ score.” “Of course, the minister cannot be blamed for his failure to understand such a technical detail. Ministers are to decide on general policy framework. The formulation of Z-score and other calculation details should be assigned to experts who have knowledge of such technical matters,” Dr. Dewasiri said.

Asked to comment, the former examinations chief Anura Edirisinghe told the Sunday Times that he was not a political stooge and everything he did was in accordance with administrative regulations and rules.
As per the allegations, he was not prepared to respond to those with a ‘low mentality’, but would do so if these claims were made in courts.

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