BY Jagadish Paudel
Due to the ongoing, life-threatening COVID 19 in Nepal, along with SEE, the 11 and 12th-grade, and university-level final examinations were halted for a couple of months, leaving millions of students in uncertainty. Luckily, in June in the case of SEE, the cabinet meeting of the Nepal government decided to award certificates to students based on the internal evaluation conducted by schools. However, 12th graders and university students are still worriedly awaiting for their examinations. Tribhuvan University (TU), the nation's largest, oldest and most revered institution of higher education, has been postponing most of its examinations, putting students into extra worries. Some student organizations and professor associations are demanding that TU authorities offer alternative means for examinations. However, the TU authorities could not offer an alternative to hourly examinations, which have been practiced for a long time at the institution. Recently, due to the COIVD 19 pandemic across the country, TU has again rescheduled some its final examinations with plans for testing after the Dashain-Tihar festival.
Against this backdrop, and to work to mitigate the adverse effects of such unforeseen eventualities in the future, the best possibility maybe that of launching a nationwide internal assessment system so that the students’ academic year remains intact and such a long uncertainty might possibly end. If we look at the world’s most renowned educational institutions, we find that virtually all of them now embrace a fully continuous internal student evaluation and grading system at every level to gauge students’ knowledge and skills. For the last two semesters, I myself have also experienced a fully internal evaluation system as a graduate student here at The University of Texas at El Paso, USA, and found it very beneficial in terms of improving learning, measuring knowledge, and ensuring timely result publication of grades. Every day we are evaluated based on our class participation, discussions in the classroom, discussion on Blackboard (an online learning management tool on which students write their opinions and arguments on the topic being taught), presentations, and writing projects. In both semesters, I obtained my results (grades) a week after classes were over. Thus, my university has not been forced to halt examinations and hold back final results even in such a crisis as we in Nepal are now facing. Unfortunately, in Nepal we are still primarily sticking with one-time high-stakes yearly and semester-end examinations (final external examinations) for measuring students’ knowledge and skills.
Some programs at some universities in Nepal have already switched to an internal evaluation system. For master level study, TU shifted to the semester system in 2014, allocating 40 marks for internal evaluation. In the system in which I taught for two years, evaluating students through an internal evaluation system. I experienced far better results in comparison to yearly system examinations. Under the newer system, I would continuously evaluate students’ everyday performances, class participation, discussion, project/assignment completion, work quality, and presentation. These activities would provide students some spaces to demonstrate their creativity and potentialities. Indeed, my teaching experience also shows that if internal examinations are conducted properly, this would be undeniably better than the current high-stakes final examinations that we have been relying on, long deemed as a powerful “mantra” for gauging students’ learning.
The present hourly examination system has given an opportunity to exercise power to people who are not involved in teaching-learning activities. At our universities, non-academic staff are responsible for preparing administratively for conducting examinations, collecting answer-sheets, and publishing results, a procedure which obviously makes for delays in conducting examinations and publishing results. Yes, the present board examination system is lengthy in terms of the time it takes. Collecting students’ answer sheets from across the country, and distributing the answer-sheet pockets to examiners, examining the papers, and returning them back to the office of the controller of examinations are tedious and time-taking activities. To avoid such administrative hurdles and processes, a fully internal evaluation system is required to be implemented at all the university level examinations. If the full internal evaluation is brought into practice, teachers could calculate, compile, return, and publish students’ results in real-time, allowing for immediate feedback to students, unlike present-day exam results that are sometimes not published until 7 or 8 months or even a year later.
Amidst unpredictable eventualities and unexpected crises like the COVID-19, the present time seems opportune to decide to launch fully internal classroom evaluations for measuring students’ knowledge and skills at our educational institutions.
Worldwide research studies have shown that any kind of assessment works best when it is on-going, and when it reveals performance continuously. In this respect, the internal evaluation system seems vastly more scientific and just than simply relying on final exams. If an entirely internal evaluation system is brought into practice in Nepal, discarding the current final terms exam, teachers and their educational institutions can formulate their own proper testing strategies and can schedule examinations autonomously before the end of the academic year or semester.
Similarly, internal evaluation systems assist to improve teachers’ teaching within the academic term as their students are continuously tested throughout the session. If instructors' pedagogy is not working well to achieve the target objectives, they can immediately adjust or rectify their teaching methods during the academic term and improve their performance in the classroom, an advantage that normally lacks if one relies solely or primarily on final hourly examinations for evaluation. Also, in an internal evaluation system, teachers usually give students opportunities to re-do their work if the students are disgruntled with their performance or if the evaluation does not meet up to the teacher's expectations.
Likewise, it is commonly observed that in the institutions where high-stakes final examinations are implemented as the primary or only form of evaluation, students make maximum effort only when their exams approach. They start to buy books and notes and recite them in order to be able to vomit back the knowledge in the final examinations. Yes, in order to avoid such pernicious practices and engage students regularly in teaching-learning activities, a fully internal evaluation is imperative at our universities.
An internal evaluation system is also needed to save students and government investment in education. For example, under this type of evaluation system, students can appear for their tests even if they miss some testing days due to unforeseeable events (sickness, accident, etc.). In the one-time final evaluation system administered by the board, something which is usually conducted on the same days across all the affiliated institutions, there is no adequate provision for students who unfortunately have to miss their examinations due to personal problems. It is always the case that a number of students miss their examinations due to unanticipated personal events and consequently have to drop their studies, wasting their time and investment. Indeed, to save investment and avert unnecessary student drop-outs, there is a dire need for launching an internal evaluation system in our academic institutions.
Despite the obvious benefits of internal educational evaluation, there can arise the very real question of personal bias from teachers in rating their own students’ performances, students’ unnecessary grumbling, and student, parents or community pressure, even threats and bribery for teachers to assign good marks, as well as multiple other potential hurdles. However, these kinds of problems can be solved by establishing a strong mechanism of well-defined expectations and equitable policy. To enact it, educational institutions across the country should be prepared administratively to train and closely supervise their own teachers and should require teachers to prepare transparent course syllabi, evaluation policies and strategies, course calendars, and a classroom codes of conduct that must be followed during their academic sessions. Further, teachers should be offered resources and schools and colleges should be resourceful, for instance, installing high-speed wireless Internet access and a resource-filled library of books and reference publications for students’ use. Also, since teachers will be given much greater responsibility and autonomy, they, in turn, should be committed to ethically, honestly, and effectively enacting the internal evaluation in their classrooms.
Indeed, for timely results, in order to assess students’ performance consistently, to make teachers more liable for their teaching, to minimize expenses and the risk of adverse impact of unforeseeable events like this occurring with COVID-19, internal student evaluation systems should be integrated as soon as reasonably possible in our educational institutions.
Bio: The author is a faculty member at Central Department of Education, TU, currently pursuing his Ph. D. in Rhetoric and Writing Studies at The University of Texas at El Paso, Texas, USA.