By Brahim Ait Hammou
By Brahim Ait Hammou
Morocco World News
Tinghir, Morocco, June 19, 2012
There has been a wide debate on the social networking leaks that accompanied our baccalaureate exams this year – maybe more than what has ever happened in our end of high school exams.
The Ministry of Education issued a statement admitting that there were leaks through social networking sites. We heard also similar stories of people getting answers through SMS messages from their mobile phones. Many people also discussed cases where violence was used by those who wanted to cheat, in order to intimidate some teachers.
So many people discussed the issue of leaking and cheating as immoral, unethical and all of those words that might be used to describe such an inhumane, anti-social practice. I am not going to look at the issue from that perspective again, because we all agree that leaking exam questions one way or another and cheating must be punished. I will be looking at lessons that must be learned from what has recently happened.
The first thing that is obvious is that our examination system no longer meets the requirements and conditions of the modern age, in which our students are living. This examination system must be reformed in such a way that leaking questions or cheating becomes almost impossible or meaningless. While allocating 50 percent of the baccalaureate grade to the last two or three hours exam is totally unfair, this percentage has to be modified so that the continuous assessment that is taken on a regular basis obtains more prominence and importance.
In this way, we rid those who rely too much on the final 50 percent opportunity of that one-minute chance of cheating and getting a grade that will certainly be better than that of a student who was laboring during the entire baccalaureate years.
It’s high time for the Ministry of Education to give more credit to those assessments that are done throughout the school year and also to rely more on the grades that students get from their continuous work and efforts, and not from a one week – sometimes one night – effort.
The leaks of the exams using technology has also another lesson to teach us. Our assessment has to move from posing direct and closed questions that have only one possible answer to assessments that rely on an ongoing process of learning, research and inquiry. It’s high time that Moroccan schools start assessing students using widely open methods of assessments that foster creativity, responsibility and competition, including long-term portfolios and projects that are continuously monitored by the teacher, who is the only one that is able to decide whether that final (or process) product of the student is really his/her own achievement or not.
I really think that assessing students has to rely more on systems where they can integrate more than one skill. Project-based assessment is one possible way through which students can integrate all the skills and competencies they have learned all through their four years of learning EFL. A one choice question gives ample space for “gambling,” and that’s absolutely clear in the true/false statement, where students get the correct choice and they fail to justify it.
The status quo of the EFL exams now tests the students only in one skill. It’s unfair to test a student on whether he/she’s able to use the passive or to express regret using questions like “re-write the sentence as indicated..” I am not justifying the leaks or cheating. Yet, my view is that this sort of testing/assessment is totally unfair as the students might be able to use the passive in his/her speaking/writing, and still he/she fails to see the transformation rule. Giving students multiple chances of showing what they can do with English minimizes to a great extent the attempts of cheating.
I really think that the type of questions (of the sort of “re-write the sentences as indicated/where is…?Put the verbs between brackets in the correct form…) that are used now gives the students more chances of cheating, and it strips the teacher of the opportunity of deciding if a product is really from the student or from a Facebook site.
Alocating 50 percent of the baccalaureate grade to the national (three hours) exam is also unfair from another perspective. Paper and pen exams fail to address multiple interests, multiple learning styles and multiple intelligences. There might be some students who are really good at speaking English, and yet they find it too hard to sit in a chair and answer grammar/comprehension questions for two or three hours.
I think that our assessment has also to move a step forward from meeting the interests of a few students to catering for a whole range of students’ differences. Leaking exams using technology and social networking sites shows that some of our students are fans of the mobile phone, the camera, the video and so many other things.
Assessment through multiple skill projects gives our students the opportunity to express themselves the fullest, to be creative and productive. Of course, we have the possibility of assessing our students using portfolios and projects. But remember, that’s only a small part of the already small 25 percent allocated to continuous assessment. It’s high time, then, that we put more trust in in-class continuous grades and assessments. I think it’s the long-term continuous assessment that deserves to get even more than 50 percent of the baccalaureate grade!
Another failure of the paper and pen exams as they are administered now is that they fail to test all what our students can do with language. I am absolutely sure, depending on my in-service experience that transforming a statement from direct to reported speech on the board or in the work-book doesn’t necessarily mean that the student CAN really do that while he/she’s speaking or writing an article. So the point is: exams have to be taken in different ways. Testing our student’s language as it is now cannot tell us anything about the real competencies that our students have really achieved throughout their four years of learning English.
I suppose that students have to be tested orally, in writing (different forms of writing again, not write an article about “the causes and effects of brain drain” full stop) and through projects as well. We have to get multiple sources of information about what our students have achieved, and those multiple sources must get the same grade percentages. I am not sure whether there is any piece of evidence which shows that reading comprehension is more important than writing or vice versa. By allocating more grades to grammar/vocabulary and less to writing (or the opposite) you fail to be fair in your testing, as you are giving more opportunities of success to those who are “grammar” fans (maybe authoritative/mathematical) learners and you take more chances from those who love imagination (writing poems, essays…).
By using only a paper and pen exam, our exams are also unfair, and that gives more excuses to those who “love” to cheat. There are so many of our students who are good at speaking, maybe “auditory/communicative” learners. A pen and paper exam doesn’t really cater for their biological difference.
Using technology in leaking exams and in cheating tells us one last thing. Our educational system, which still relies too much on chalk, textbooks, papers and blackboards, is lagging far behind our students’ daily lives. Cheating and leaking exams using technology, maybe, gives them the pleasure and the satisfaction which our classes fail to give them. It’s high time then for all of us to start thinking of making this technology looks “meaningless” for them. Our schools must be equipped with the sort of technology that most of our students are experiencing (in a negative way) these days so that they learn that Facebook, iPhones, iPads and what’s coming next are made for learning and not for cheating.
To conclude, I have read on many places on the web (forums, Facebook pages…) comments of people asking the Ministry of Education to equip schools with technology that is able to cut off the internet and mobile networks on schools during exams. Well, that might be a good idea, but remember that as you are thinking of that, other people might have already obtained applications, software or maybe machines that will make your idea so funny for them.
Edited By April Warren
A teacher of English as a Foreign Language, Brahim Ait Hammou, has been teaching for ten years. He is interested in social media ,blogging and the use of ICT in education. He is is also interested in using projects in language learning.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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