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Govt. challenged to achieve quality education, recognized internationally

Niuku'alofa, Tonga


Listening to the message from the Throne during the opening of Parliament yesterday (June 2) where His Majesty referred to Education as one of the three key challenges for the government (Health and Economy being the other two), and taking note of what has transpired in the Ministry of Education over the last sixteen months, I can't help but support Dr. Sitiveni Halapua's view in his letter to the editor on 1 June 2016 that it is time to work towards improving the quality of education rather than destroying it. Given the challenge for the government from His Majesty during the opening of Parliament, “Oku fiema’u ke hiki hake ‘a e akó ki ha tu’unga fakatu’apule’anga pea ke fakatokanga’i ‘i Tu’apule’anga” the Ministry of Education should now take up the challenge seriously and develop a roadmap for achieving this challenge.

Improving quality education to a level that is recognized internationally is not an easy undertaking and requires a holistic reform of the education system and not a quick-fix or ad hoc approach such as changing to raw marks, introducing a new IT programme or doing away with internal assessment as that would only add to the current confusion. The focus and commitment should be directed towards what matters most in education, the student, and what it takes to improve their learning (knowledge, skills and attitudes) to a level where they can be competitive regionally and internationally. This can be achieved by supporting teachers to improve the effectiveness of their teaching, encouraging school principals and head teachers to support teachers by ensuring that the school environment is conducive to teaching and learning, as well to parents and the community to direct their support towards improving student learning, that is what will improve the quality of education.

The ongoing discussions about examinations, more specifically on 'raw marks' versus 'standardized marks' and recently on 'Internal Assessment' (IA) are but distractions from the main issue of the declining  quality of education that His Majesty highlighted in his message to the country during the opening of Parliament. While the preoccupation with Raw Marks vs Standardized Marks, as well as Internal Assessment are important and need to be resolved urgently, they have little influence on the overall quality of education as examinations serve different purposes. Examinations only provide a measure of what a student can or cannot do at a certain point in time as well as providing a pathway for further higher level studies including university studies.

While incumbent government can put in place systems, including processes and procedures, that it considers appropriate and within its mandate, it must make sure that it has the evidence to make sure that the new system, as wellas the appropriate processes and procedures, would lead to improvement in the system. Unfortunately this has not been the case with the changes to the examinations system as claims about the weaknesses or failures of the old system are not based on any research or valid evidence, rather it is based on personal perceptions. The latest change to the internal assessment is again a clear example of the ad hoc changes that are taking place where the claim against the evil of internal assessment is unfounded and not based on any valid evidence.

The assertion that internal assessment is a ‘sin’ is one of the biggest mis-information [premises that] one can put forward in the area of assessment and indicates lack of understanding of the rationale for having internal assessment. Without internal assessment, one can only assume that the assessment of what a student can do, will be based only on the external examinations.  If this is the intention, then it contradicts the claim in support of raw marks as the external examinations cannot assess all of what a student can do. It cannot assess important skills such as research skills, practical skills, computer skills, etc, thus making the examination and the raw marks it generates an invalid measure of what students can do. The inclusion of internal assessment provides the opportunity to assess the knowledge and skills in those areas that the external examination cannot assess, therefore complementing the external examinations and enhancing the validity of the assessment. The Examinations and Assessment Unit highlighted this in its review of the 2015 cycle the need for the assessment to be valid, unfortunately it has not been given any serious consideration.

The assertion and blame levelled against internal assessment has nothing to do with internal assessment as a sound and internationally recognized and adopted form of assessment. Instead the blame, if evidence is available, should be directed towards those who are responsible for implementing the internal assessment, in the way it was meant to be carried out by the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education should take responsibility for any failure to implement the internal assessment correctly and make sure that schools and teachers implement the internal assessment correctly, instead of pointing the finger at the internal assessment as a sound assessment approach.

Faka’apa’apa Atu.

Dr. Visesio Pongi
Expert and Consultant in Education Assessment and Evaluation.

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