Monday, November 17, 2008

Marking in haste By Shahid Anwar

Even the best individuals perform poorly in bad structures. The boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education in the Punjab have unwittingly done the same thing. In a bid to save some money, probably, they have introduced a faulty remuneration structure for marking papers.The fallout is reckless hasty marking with little sense of justice and fair play. It’s also making a mockery of the evaluation system, depriving the young students of their due awards while killing the hopes and aspirations of their parents.Before analysing the pros and cons of the payment structure, it is appropriate to describe briefly the boards’ system of central marking and the previous remuneration structure.The appointed examiners consisting of sub-examiners and head-examiners are called to the specified centres to mark papers of the students appearing in the matriculation and intermediate exams. The marking continues until the job is done.
Usually a centre runs for about 40 to 60 working days. It is called the central marking system. And it has been adopted to speed up the evaluation to enable an early tabulation and timely announcement of results. In this regard, the system has worked remarkably well and students and parents are saved from the inordinate waiting for results.The examiners were paid the standard daily allowance plus payment for paper marking. Having been given an assured amount as daily allowance, the examiners generally remained content with the marking of a prescribed number of papers (usually 20 to 25) per day. The system worked well as there was little incentive for crossing the prescribed limit for a meagre amount paid per paper. There were a few who sought more papers but they did it only through stealth. The overall working environment at marking centres was reasonable.But the boards abandoned the above remuneration system a couple of years ago and introduced a new one. It abolished the daily allowance and offered a lump sum amount per paper without any limits on the maximum number of papers one can evaluate per day. It means that hasty and speedy marking will be rewarded more than careful marking. Mark more, earn more ... became the driving passion.It serves the board as well. Getting more papers marked in a shorter span saves time and money. The unscrupulous examiners take advantage of this situation. Money matters the most. The boards want cheap labour and the examiners cheap money. But the very purpose of examination becomes the first causality. No just and fair evaluation can be expected in a system that promotes covetousness and haste and a demoted dignity of work and sense of fairness.Not surprisingly, it has opened the floodgates of reckless and carefree marking. A principal in a district college commenting on this phenomenon said: “It’s extremely shameful how the teachers are playing with the future of students.” The real culprit, however, is the faulty structure adopted by the boards. It is bound to unleash unjust measures.
There are several appalling stories regarding hasty marking and the corrupt exam mafia. For instance, a lecturer was told that a sub-examiner in English earned a cheque of around Rs2,75,000 from the Faisalabad Board for a single spell of central marking. The supersonic speed allows no room for appropriate time and attention that every paper deserves.In another case of carefree marking, according to an assistant professor privy to the details of the incident, an Urdu sub-examiner mistakenly marked his colleague’s Pakistan Studies paper, and similarly an English lecturer marked a Physics paper.Just imagine … this wild marking determines the future of thousands of students who appear in eight boards of the Punjab in an increasingly high-stake competition for admission to the professional colleges. The parents and students put in a lot of energy, time and also money on private tuition academies. What if they become victims of reckless evaluation at the end of the day?“There is plenty of discontent with more and more students applying for a recheck of their papers and in 50 per cent of the cases, the changes occur in marks,” shares a board official on conditions of anonymity. He also said that “Negligence is rampant. Many of the answers, at times, are found unmarked or unaccounted in the total.” Saying so, he cited a case of rechecking a paper in which the difference that came up was of 60 marks. The student actually got 76 but the examiner had wrongly written 16.What and where are the counterchecks? What if he had not applied for a recheck? Obviously, not all the students go for rechecking, many simply cannot afford the Rs670 fee per paper. It is also relevant to point out here that rechecking does not involve re-evaluation. There is no antidote for an examiner’s careless or injudicious marking.
The examples mentioned above are not rare occurrences. They are the tip of an iceberg. Any person with access to the boards’ official records can stumble on such astonishing facts through a simple scan.One needs to look for the following questions: ‘Who evaluated how many papers in a single day?’ and ‘Who got a cheque for what and of what amount?’Such an inquiry is highly desirable in order to find the nexus between money-minting teachers — always seeking exam duties and the board officials — never failing to oblige the same folk. Those familiar with the exam duty mafia are already well aware of such things.The plain but painful reality is that a combination of all pervasive silence, criminal neglect and self-serving greed is playing havoc with the future of our youth.So many students decide to change their subjects and go for another career depending on their examination results. For some sensitive souls, passing an exam is a matter of life and death. We often hear or read about some depressed young fellow committing suicide after failing to pass an exam. What if they never got a fair evaluation?The deterioration in quality of evaluation must be arrested here and now. The following suggestions may prove helpful:• High officials in education boards need to keep in mind that their topmost priority must be a fair, just and foolproof evaluation system.• It is very important to redesign the remuneration structure. Daily allowance should be restored and reasonably revised.• A lower and upper limit of papers that one examiner is supposed to evaluate in a day must be sensibly determined and observed strictly. Allowing anyone to mark as many papers as he wants to is damaging and should be recognised as such.• The mafia consisting of chronic exam duty hunters and their collaborators in the boards must be identified and busted.
• A fact-finding inquiry as mentioned earlier should be conducted to find those who marked hundreds of papers per day without any regard for their moral and professional duty.• The provincial government should step in to dismantle the structure of hasty marking that is denying our young students their fundamental right to be judged fairly. n

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