Education woes

This year’s national examinations for university entry which ended yesterday were tainted by at least two mistakes in the selection and wording of questions. After an error found in part of a question on the physics exam for second-year senior high school students came a mistake in a mathematics question for third-year senior high students. As the typical uproar within the scientific community is still raging, it is hard to know whether the question was simply too difficult for the students’ level or whether the latter were asked to prove a flawed statement. Given the gravity of the examinations for tens of thousands of students and their families, no justification can absolve the central examination board of charges of frivolity. Difficult as the task of choosing the questions may be, it is unacceptable that such prestigious and experienced experts failed to discern the errors or ambiguities in the questions posed to the pupils. Still, the failure of the examination board is only one of many parameters in the general ordeal of the national examinations. During the recent examinations, we once again had the opportunity to watch the customary (yet absurd) phenomenon of the exams being promoted into a national issue, grabbing newspaper headlines, dominating the radio and television news bulletins and becoming a battleground for scientists, professors and private tuition school teachers. And although the nationwide concern is understandable due to the significance of the tests for the students, this noisy publicity does not allow the children to remain calm and concentrate nor does it help the responsible officials to carry out their duty in a cool-headed fashion. As regards the flawed mathematics question, for example, the board could have made a different decision had the issue not been raised to a point of political and scientific confrontation with remarks and open letters. And the graders would have been able to do a better job were they not subject to persistent calls for a standardized scoring system aimed at ensuring equal treatment for all pupils. The national examinations are a very important issue. However, they would be much better organized if they drew less public attention.