Srijonshil: a creative caricature?

For the last decade, public examinations of school and college level are having Srijonshil or structured question, a creative question pattern to test student’s ability on four different criteria. However, this system has become a concern for both the teachers and students. Lack of well trained teachers in this system is translating, unfortunately, into students failing to grasp the system subsequently resulting in question leaks. Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree digs deep into the loopholes.

Cartoon-on-GPAA class of Grade Eight students was given a question, which asked them to shed light on the task of taking crucial decisions in life based on a poem — ‘The Road Not Taken’, by Robert Frost. The poem depicts a person who has a choice of two roads and has taken the one less travelled by, which has made all the difference for him. This may be an example of the ‘creative system’ question which requires the students to apply their perception while answering the question. The class failed to understand the question let alone answering it. They were confused whether to write a summary of the poem, or talk about themselves, or write a literary analysis. This is to say, the students failed to understand what the question is asking for. This, apparently, seems to be the problem both for teachers and students in Bangladesh right now after the government launched structured question in question making for the board exams till class 12 from 2008 partially.

The ‘creative system’ structured based on Bloom’s Taxonomy requires a student to go through six stages — remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating and creating. For example, if a lesson on waste management is taught, students can remember facts like how much garbage is piled at the garbage disposals every day, which are degradable and non-degradable materials et cetera. To know why some materials are degradable and why some are not is understanding. If a student is asked what need to be done to avoid clogging of toilets, if they suggest the idea of not throwing tissue papers in the pan, would be applying of their acquired knowledge. If a student gathers all the bits and pieces of information on waste disposal and discusses why the amount of waste is going up that is analysing the matter at hand. Whether using jute bags over plastic bags for grocery shopping is a good idea or not is discussed by a student, that is evaluating. And finally, suggesting something new, coming up with new ideas to avoid the waste disposal problem can be equal to creating on a student’s part.

4a6367964b887f273794c83ddf756326Professor Mohammad Shamsul Huda, director, Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE), said to New Age Youth that the structured question was a necessity in our country as globally the previous method of memorising (rote learning) went out of teaching methods. Skill and performance based education had been adopted, and thus Bangladesh too started the practice. He also said, students used to face more problems at university level in the previous system, however, the structured system would build in a capability in university level students to learn better.

In Bangladesh, the structured question mainly consists of cognitive, analytical, application and higher ability tests. And this is where the problems come in. It starts with the teachers not being able to comprehend the question pattern as of yet. The education board first launched the structured question they promised to bring in qualified teachers and train them properly according to the system requirements. But initially they had provided a three-day long training for the teachers, this cannot be called a training though, workshop is a more appropriate term in this case. And teachers, who had taught in the previous style for a long time, struggled hard to grasp the system. Later on, the training was extended for three more days, but even then, it was anything but adequate. Former Dhaka University institute of education and research professor Siddiqur Rahman said regarding this, ‘The government said they will fully prepare the teachers for the system but what we’ve seen is that they are not even trained to a minimum standard.’

standardized-tests-1According to DSHE, about 40.81 per cent teachers were unable to make the question papers themselves. Teachers are confused and that affects not only the exams, but also in the classrooms. Research for Advancement of Complete Education reveals that only 45 per cent of the teachers understand the structured question system, 42 per cent somewhat understands it and 13 per cent have no understanding at all. In their academic supervision report, they have also said that about 59.19 per cent teachers could prepare questions on their own. 25.99 per cent teachers take help from other schools while making the questions and 14.83 per cent teachers manage the question from others entirely. Teachers not being able to prepare questions, seriously questions their capability of checking the answer scripts.

Professor Siddiqur, who was also one of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board’s chief consultants, said, ‘For preparing questions which are creative, we need creative teachers. Both the teachers and the students have to go through enough practice for being able to make questions and sit for the exam in the system respectively.’

This poor condition of the teachers has resulted in manifold problems for students. As the teachers are incapable of comprehending the system themselves, they cannot deliver lessons accordingly in the classrooms. Parents are not clear on the system either which restricts them from helping their children. As a result, students and parents are bound to seek help from home tutors, coaching centers and guide books. It has increased the cost of education at primary, secondary and higher secondary levels. Reflecting on the matter, professor Siddiqur said, ‘If a student does not practice the questions in class, there is no point having to answer questions of that pattern in the board exams. Moreover, without good teachers, we cannot expect quality education.’ However, both professor Siddiqur and professor Huda have referred to one common problem, that is, 98 per cent of educational institutions are non-governmental and the government cannot overview the process of teacher recruitments at those institutions. As a result, nepotism, bribery, political link-ups are used in becoming teachers and that really does not help the educational sector.

In the meantime, coaching business which is not approved by the government is only but increasing over the time. Because of the helplessness of students in the schools and colleges, the coaching centers have the students into their tight grips. A home tutor costs four to five times more than the centers, but it saves time for students and ensures a special attention from the teacher. On the other hand, coaching costs less than a home tutor, but it requires a lot of travel time from the students. As parents cannot accompany them all the time, chances remain that the students might engage in harmful activities or fall prey to those.

It is also to mention that, since a very small number of teachers understand the system, some of these teachers cash in on this for expanding their coaching business. An HSC candidate from one of the reputed colleges in Dhaka said, ‘At the college, the teachers do not take any classes properly. They always leave the lessons unfinished or do not explain the chapters to us clearly. So if we need to grasp a lesson, we will have to go to their coaching classes. Which we were bound to do at last having no other choice.’ The mother of that student showed regret over the fact that school fee and coaching together are costing her family more than they can afford, she has a younger daughter as well who will reach the higher secondary level shortly.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Dependency of guide books has skyrocketed both among students and teachers. According to RACE, a booming 92 per cent of students depend on guide books. While the matter of students makes sense, it is a sign of failure in this question system as most teachers depend on those too for teaching lessons at class and mostly in preparing questions. To lessen the hassle at hand, teachers resort to guide books or summaries of textbooks to teach in class.  In 2016, Bengali first paper question of JSC exam, Dhaka education board, was directly copied from a guide book. This is apparently prevalent in all the boards and the practice is not slowing down.

Syed Manzoorul Islam, a former professor of English at Dhaka University, reported to have said in an interview earlier this year that ‘creative system’ tests two things — it tests the depth of knowledge of a student on a given subject and their ability to express in their own language what they have learnt. But the ‘creative system’ has not proven capable of testing either of these properly. The questions are set in a way that is bound to confuse the students. If the question papers really reflect the structured system or not is also under question.

Even after all this, fear of failure gets to students and their parents. Question leaks in the previous years had become such a usual matter that it shocked people. Parents, for whom education is only but a commodity, had been exposed to have direct hand in helping their children to get the leaked question papers.

This overall situation actively affected one thing in particular, that is the quality of education. The students passing the public examinations are incapable of producing a correct sentence either in Bangla or English. These students take a downfall at the university admission tests which testifies for a huge loophole in the system. If we take a look at statistics, in 2018, the combined pass rate in Secondary School Certificate and equivalent fell down to a nine-year low. The number of institutions with 100 per cent pass rate fell down to 1,574 to 2,266. And from 109 institutions, no students passed. As for the Higher Secondary Certificate and equivalent exams, the combined pass rate fell to a ten-year low and the number of institutions having no examinees passed rose to a seven-year high.

Is the structured system doing us any good then? What happens to the students who have fallen victims to the loophole of the system? When do the experiments end and when is a right time to ensure quality teachers, quality education and a quality learning environment! Being in full support of the structured question, professor Siddiqur said, ‘The pattern of structured question that Bangladesh follows that is partial, not fully followed. The current pattern needs reformation and improvement.’


Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree is a member of the New Age Youth team.


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