Unnecessary changes

In a matter of days, approximately 14,500 students across the country are slated to sit the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), commonly called the “Common Entrance” exams. This has always been regarded as quite an important exam for our students, considering that it plays a huge part in the authorities deciding which secondary school a student should be awarded.
Usually at examinations time, students suffer from anxiety and some amount of nervousness as they want to be sure that nothing gets in their way of performing to the best of their ability. For many of them they would wish that no impediment gets in their way. For this reason one would have hoped that by now the Education Ministry would have had all systems in place to run off these exams in a smooth manner.
As expected, students and parents alike are very confused about the entire situation and are demanding answers from the officials.To begin with, it is quite unfortunate to see the level of bickering between the Government and the Opposition regarding these ‘changes’. We believe this huge brouhaha could have been avoided in the first place had the Ministry consulted with the relevant stakeholders to seek out their views before making a decision on the way forward.
The Ministry and by extension the Government must be cognisant of the difficulties that could arise and the level of resistance the public can show when changes are foisted upon them without the proper consultation. It is fair to say that the Education Ministry has done a very poor job in helping parents and students understand what the changes are and the justification for such changes.
Former Education Minister Priya Manickchand in particular has been asking several questions on behalf of parents and students when it became known that certain changes will be made to the NGSA. For example, the new layout mandates that each student sitting the NGSA write their names on their examination papers. This has caused much discomfort and unease among parents throughout the country since there is no justification for making such a request.
According to Manickchand, she was notified that Paper One of each examination will be marked electronically outside of the country, and while this may be acceptable, the major concern lies with the Education Ministry’s response that Paper Two is to be marked locally, which can allow for unfairness and discrimination to affect the system if Candidate names are included.
This has never been done before; students have always been asked to write their Candidate Numbers on exam papers, instead of names. This prevents anyone marking the paper from knowing whose work they are grading; hence there is no room for any form of discrimination against students. This decision can have more negative effects than positive ones and can affect the integrity of the examination system which Guyana has spent decades to build.
In all fairness to the Education Ministry, it had said that while there will be some changes to the Assessment, these will only be related to the question paper and answer sheets, and not the structure or format of the questions on the question paper. It had also noted that this will have no implications for marking because these answer sheets will all be marked electronically.
However, so far, the Ministry has not provided any proper justification as to why students should include their names on the exam paper, except to say that it is a mechanism to ensure that the candidate for whom the paper was prepared is actually the one who answers the questions.
We believe that this is no justifiable reason for implementing such a change in the NGSA at this time, and certainly will provide no guarantee to parents who have raised numerous concerns about this particular issue, that their child/children work will get a fair and honest assessment.
Going forward, it would serve the Ministry well if it were to take onboard the necessary views which are being ventilated by the various stakeholders in relation to proposed changes to any aspect of education delivery and management. The current situation could best be described as unnecessary distraction to our students which can lead to victimisation. This decision should be revisited!