Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio


Edexel – No Secret Garden

English medium students are quite familiar with Edexcel International, a body that conducts examinations in more than a hundred countries. Elizabeth Lowen, the deputy managing director of Edexcel International on a recent visit to Bangladesh shared her knowledge on how the O'level and A'level examinations are being conducted.

Tahmina Shafique(TS): When did Edexcel take over responsibility for administering the O'Level and A'Level examinations worldwide?

Elizabeth Lowen(EL): Well, Edexcel doesn't actually administer the examinations, we leave it to British Council. Because we have a system of operating private candidates through British Council, we have the ability to control private candidates in large scales. We have also opened up our possibilities to schools and enrolled them under the UK system.

TS: Could you give us some idea about the rationale behind the grading policy adopted by Edexcel. Unlike earlier examinations the marks are now available, why was this change made?

EL: I felt the need of this policy when I was doing my masters in Education. As an Examination Board we are accountable to the parents, students and the teachers. In earlier times, when there were many examination boards, which were run by Universities, our system of process and procedures, were kept secret. The schools were given a very small syllabus and asked to get on with that. Furthermore, the marking criteria were kept secret as well. A famous professor once called this procedure 'A secret garden' and we wanted to open that garden. We wanted teachers and students to be fully aware of what is expected, what will be the criteria the student's will be assessed upon and what marks will be awarded.

TS: Is there any difference between the syllabus and examinations of Edexcel International in the UK and overseas countries?

EL: There isn't any difference at all. There is only one syllabus and the same question paper for all students worldwide. It is because we have the same question paper, the

timings, of for example Bangladesh, are pushed forward so that all of the exams in each geographical segment take place at the same time. This system has been especially implemented because of the advantage of the instant communication system that exists in today's time. However, I would like to express my appreciation to the Bangladeshi students who act honorably and follow each and every rule as they are expected to do.TS: So is there any discrepancy in the grading system in say, UK and in the other countries?

EL: Not at all. All papers are checked keeping in mind the fact that they are all students irrespective of which region they belong to. Besides, we only have the candidate number and centre number on the answer script and there is no way that the examiner would actually differentiate the marking system. Over that they practically don't have any time to take into account so many factors as each of them has almost 300 to 400 papers to mark.

TS: There has been some controversy around the issue of misplacements of results. As the story goes- a student got A's despite being absent. Could you please unfold the mystery?

EL: The entire incident was an error on our part and something about which I am not at all happy. If we look at the other side we have 15 million marks to operate in our system in each session and we try really hard to avoid such errors. However, unfortunately this time the absent was confused with an A and the candidate got an A because of this misplacement.

TS: So are you taking any actions to avoid such errors in future?

EL: As soon as we were aware of it, we checked our records. We had to ensure that the information was correct and since we have all of the examination scripts stored in London it was easy to find out the error. In order to avoid such errors in future we have joined a company called Peers and Education which is a very large educational organisation involved in publishing Penguin editions and also involved with technological marking and processing. In this way we don't have any manual intervention and hence there is less possibility of errors. We have two electronic systems that would match names and marks. All these steps have been taken because we understand that the entire examination has personal and emotional impact on students and we try our best to do justice to each of these students who deserve the best system of marking.

TS: How do the results in Bangladesh compare with results abroad?

EL: Bangladesh has some fantastic results and I was immensely pleased by the outstanding results of the Bangladeshi students whom I met during the Daily Star Award giving programme. Besides that they all looked so confident and enthusiastic while receiving the awards. I know that these students work very hard and seek great goals and achievements. It is truly appreciable to see these students working so hard and so determined to obtain an internationally recognised qualification.

TS: As the deputy-managing director of Edexcel International, you have visited many schools in Bangladesh, what is your impression?

EL: Well I feel that the schools in Bangladesh have some terrible conditions for both teachers and students. There is also a dire need of good, qualified English teachers. The schools need to train up teachers. However, some schools are investing on their premises and providing an integrated environment for students. So it's just not teaching, they also have extra curricular activities such as sports, debate etc.

TS: So, what does Edexcel have at its disposal to train teachers and meet the dire need that exists in Bangladesh?

EL: Well, we do have a programme to provide training to teachers. Our teachers come here and train others. If you are talking about the training across the board, we would love to do that but we need funding for that. The British Council is providing various kinds of training as well.

TS: Do you have suggestions about how to make our students more creative?

EL: Our English language paper is now being designed in a way that would grow more interest in the students. We are providing more creative writings which concern reading and understanding rather than learning by heart. The students get marks according to the level of their very own creativity. I would suggest students to enjoy watching English educational programmes, news, reading interesting magazines and current events rather than those fat, boring books!

TS: According to you what are the benefits derived from the English Educational System and being under the Edexcel System for Bangladeshi students?

EL: Well, English in itself is an international language and is the language of business. It would definitely open up wider opportunities for all these bright Bangladeshi students. At the end of it all they would be able to communicate worldwide and achieve the highest and most successful goals.

The Edexcel System offers a standard syllabus, which provides the candidate a good base with a very detailed knowledge about each of the subject areas. Our assessment criteria are also very standard and develop every aspect required in the future fields. Another important feature is the fact that the qualifications can be transferred. In other words when Bangladeshi students obtain the UK qualification from here, they have the choice of studying here or abroad, but whatever qualification they acquire from our system, they can bring it back to this country and reinvest it here.

Tahmina Shafique is editorial assistant at the Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD).

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