The eight-member Examination Reforms Committee set up by the Kerala State Higher Education Council has called for major reforms in the higher education sector to ensure transparency and better assessment of students.

The Examination Reforms Committee set up by the Kerala State Higher Education Council has recommended comprehensive measures to revamp the evaluation pattern of students in the higher education sector.

The final report of the eight-member committee headed by Jacob Tharu, former Professor at the Centre for Testing and Evaluation at the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), has called for introducing major steps to maintain the integrity of the system.

Recommending that parallel versions of question papers be introduced in universities across the State, the report suggested conducting examinations in-camera, video-recording of the process of opening packets of question papers, and packing of answer books to ensure transparency in the system. Pointing out that video recording of viva-voce examinations should be considered and initiated in a phased manner, the report said that bar-coding of answer books and response sheets should be taken up.

Delivery of question papers in electronic mode for printing at local centres on the day of the examination should be explored. Explaining that a suitable template with guidelines relating to the scope and structure of the syllabus statement of each separate course should be prepared and its use made mandatory by the universities, the report said that the syllabus statement for each course (issued by the relevant Board) should include a detailed note on the recommended assessment scheme, especially the internal component.

“The duties and responsibilities of Boards of Studies in each area should be amended to include a definite provision for syllabus preparation in keeping with the guidelines and regular reviews,” it said.

Workshop-type sessions

Suggesting that administrative and financial provision should be made for workshop-type sessions for syllabus development, with the option of including qualified resource persons as special invitees, the report pointed out that manuals, library resources and secretarial assistance should be available at the workshop venues.

“Final committee-mode decision making (if needed) must be based on workshop output. Members of Boards should be given orientation/training relating to curriculum design and educational technology. A permanent facility for this purpose should be set up by the university,” it said.

Stressing the need to upgrade the technical support and personnel resources at the college level, the report said that all teachers need to be given training in the areas of assessment and educational technology.

“A long-term strategy for training teachers in assessment with a special focus on the internal/ in-term component should be developed and implemented using both face-to-face and distance modes. The specific needs of different subject areas should be recognised and addressed,” the report said.

The report said that relevant boards should be associated with the overall planning of these programmes. The process needs to be envisioned as becoming self-supporting over time.

Urging the college departments to maintain an up-to-date reference file relating to assessment rules and guidelines, the report said that the approved schemes for internal assessment of various departments should be available to students in a clear form. The facility for dealing with difficulties/ grievances relating to internal assessment should be accessible to students.

Stating that college libraries should have a collection of manuals and reference books, CDs on assessment, curriculum, and educational technology for the use of teachers, the report said that subject-wise collections of question papers and internal assessment tasks (along with notes, critical comments) should also be obtained, and made accessible to teachers.

Describing that the existing external final examination should be revamped, the report said that Boards should undertake a review of models and recent question papers, giving priority to compulsory courses. “Useful improvements can be made without waiting for the training workshops to achieve wide coverage. A plan to review all question papers over the next several months should be prepared by each department. Reports on this exercise should be required by the academic council,” the report said.

The committee recommended that variations in the design and physical structure of questions papers (and answer booklets) should be tried out. These may include separate sections for objective-type questions, short answer and essay questions, restricted response space to encourage precision, timed sections, and flip-reduced answer sheets. Paper setting by teams through modularised setting and section-wise marking by markers in teams should be introduced in a phased manner.

Small-scale and experimental question banks should be set up in selected departments for selected courses. A task force to plan a centralized question bank (with a State level component and separate components for individual universities) may be set up, the report said.

The committee said that a clear policy for dealing with unfair practices relating to internal assessment should be evolved and put in place at the college level. It said that prevention through ensuring transparency in grading, attending to convenience aspects, and education regarding plagiarism should also be considered.

“Under the head of student welfare, a component specifically concerned with examination-related issues (especially stress and anxiety) should be established. Accessibility to students should be a priority for counselling activities. Support from the community including student volunteers could be canvassed,” it said.

The committee suggested the formulation of a scheme to support innovation and experimentation in the area of assessment at various levels (administratively and financially).

The report said that potential awardees should be reached through vigorous publicity. Support of an academic nature through accessible resource person/institution should also be provided. The presentation of reports at a suitable forum should be a requirement. The implications of findings from such experiments for improving assessment practice on a wider scale should be noted and acted upon, it said.

The committee said that research on various aspects of examinations should be taken up at each university and at selected colleges, according to an overall plan developed through consultation to avoid duplication. The Department of Education should take the lead. Research scholars in social sciences could be encouraged to participate by offering access to databases in examination branches. Observing that assessment has to be aligned with the learning objectives specified in an appropriate mode, the committee said that many weaknesses in current assessment practice follow from the inadequate articulation of abilities to be attained through specific courses in various subject areas.

It said that the clear formulation of objectives in formal syllabus statements is the first prerequisite for modifications/ improvements in assessment. The responsibility lies with academic boards representing the subjects/department, and not with the paper setter who has to follow a given pattern.

Reminding the stakeholders that the move towards decentralisation of academic power and responsibility would give autonomy to teachers who traditionally only implement what remote authorities prescribe, the committee said that these values are powerfully supported by the provision for internal assessment.

Internal assessment

The 25 per cent weightage given to internal assessment by Kerala universities needs to be consolidated and strengthened. The full potential (plurality of method and flexibility) allowed should be exploited vigorously. A commitment to progressively increase the weight of this component should make it a matter of policy, it said.

The committee said that the restructured degree programme is founded in significant measure on progressive decentralisation of academic decision-making. Course planning and teaching are to move closer to the college or teacher level. Assessment practices can further this process. The question bank, regarded here as a generic concept rather than a structure cast in one fixed mould, represents a potentially powerful means of fostering the wider participation of teachers and active collaboration among them, the report said.

Reminding the Boards to attend to the quality of question papers and marking guidelines in their respective areas, the committee said that the university (represented by the Controller of Examinations) needs to adopt various measures of a general nature that can enhance the quality of assessment and upgrade efficiency and integrity of operations.

“Observations from stakeholders (complaints and suggestions) are found in the media. Responding to significant issues and some means of conveying that actions have been taken by the government, university should be found to help dissolve the cynicism about the system,” it said.

The government will soon hold talks with all political parties having representation in the Assembly on the committee report before implementing the recommendations.

The governing council of the KSHEC had accepted the report along with the U.R. Ananthamoorthy committee report on a new education policy for the State, and the M. Ananda Krishnan committee report on reforming the acts of universities.