By Sherbaz Ali Khan
No time in history of our society can be characterized by non-existence of inequalities nor can there be possibility of complete equality in any anticipated time in future. Natural and human made inequalities are stretching far beyond bridging the gap. At the same time, there have been efforts on lessening the effects of inequalities on those less fortunate in the society. These efforts have been part of political, religious and socio-economic ideologies and movements, and different systems have been evolved overtime to make these efforts more consistent with the ever-changing needs. However, in a society of unequals, expecting that system of governance, policies, implementation mechanism, administration and procedures of delivering public goods and services within country have to be promoters of equality will be just denying the fact that inequalities are imbedded consciously or unconsciously in overall societal structure.
If you look at the inequalities, you will find many types with multiple dimensions. The widespread inequalities in social, economic and political system have promoted inequalities as haves and have nots, inequalities in terms of choices, preferences, acceptability and culturally appropriateness, inequalities with regard to gender and minorities, inequalities in connection with availability, accessibility and quality of goods and services. Based on the inequalities, there is categorization of public goods and services as wells as those available in private sector including education, health, technical and vocational trainings, social protection, self or otherwise employment, market access, transportation, housing, WASH facilities, access to and exercise of rights and amenities. The inequalities prevalent in society have profound impact on people’s lives.
While looking at the factors, which contribute to inequalities, or which perpetuate the already existing inequalities, one can come across many. One of the major contributors is the system, under which public goods and services are provided. Education system is just one example to look at how it is, and has been instrumental in strengthening inequalities in our country. You have top schools with every modern facility of teaching and training for privileged and elite, you have then schools catering to the needs to those in the middle class followed by the ones for poor. Without much thought, one can conclude that what these educational systems are producing is widening the gap of inequalities. After having been through these different educational systems, when it comes to employment, and considerations for other opportunities, the recipients of education under different systems, have to compete jointly. Rest is up to you to imagine where recipients of the each of the education system will be standing- obviously in an unequal competition, unparalleled situation, unjust comparisons, uneven circumstances, un-enabling environment, and unavoidable outcomes- perpetuation of inequality.
The gateway to enter public or provide employment arena, or other opportunities is through assessments and examinations. In the debate of inequalities, let’s not forget the role of these. Tests, assessments and examination might not sound unfamiliar to anyone of us, in one way or other, we have been through these, and also many of us have remained part of conducting the processes. These practices have become part and parcel of efforts aimed at availing various opportunities including educational attainment, acquisition of employment and promotions, technical and vocational training certification, consideration of minor of major roles locally, nationally and internationally, win or loss in bids and proposals, and obtaining and being regarded as qualified in any area of expertise. So, of course, the assessments and examinations have a significant role in determining the eligibility, quality and alignment of human capital to any area of consideration, which in result impacts not only the lives of the people assigned with responsibilities and those for whom they are responsible, but also impact the practices, systems, policies and to a greater extent social fabric in terms of inclusion and exclusion.
There can be no question about the tests, examinations and assessments, if they serve the purpose for what they meant. Also, if these mechanisms are not in place, it is not likely to think of any other way of ascertaining the knowledge, skills and attitudes of people for entry and promotion in their particular filed. There may be different methods of assessments, however the commonality is the purpose of these, so in that sense, this could be called universally acceptable and applicable. However, when it comes to the methods of assessments, their content and conduct, evaluation and resultant outcomes for the test takers, and their placement in different grades, there could be difference opinions, reservations, assumptions, speculations, disagreements, and at times even no acceptance. Like everything else, examinations and assessments in today’s world are undergoing various development phases, i.e. from manual to digital to online, however their purpose is the same. Whatever is method of examination and evaluation, whether the purpose of determining one’s knowledge, skills and attitudes is attained as outcome is what is difficult to ascertain, and secondly, assigning grades and deciding their relevance to the real life situations and setting that as criteria for one’s selection or rejection cannot be fully justified.
In a situation like that of our society, can we expect that an examination or assessment can reflect the real picture of one’s knowledge, skills and attitudes? In case of the majority of the population, the answer can be no. Most of the public sector institutions have their traditional way of conducting the examinations and assessments, where the students, the job seekers or trainees are given a set questions to write their answers. This method of examination and assessment only assess the content knowledge of the examinees, resultantly missing other aspects of assessments. The examination and assessment results are then categorized into grades. The better the grades, the better chances for entering into field of your choice or to be at more ease for availing demanding opportunities. Here it will not be out of place to mention that after entering into job, one can learn to perform as per requirement for producing the intended deliverables. There is little room for innovation in public and private organizations/firms, and the employees perform the business as usual tasks or may be with limited innovative approaches, however, organizational cultures are not more prone to much innovation. An individual of much capacity to perform needs the organizational capacity to do that, which in most of the cases do not commensurate with the capacities of the individuals. Also, organizational capacity requires environmental capacity or enabling environment. Therefore, just focusing on the selection of the people based on their tests and grades do not make them the exceptional performers in an organization, but it does result in exclusion of many others with lower grades.
Inequalities also manifest through the way tests, examinations and assessments are designed, conducted, evaluated and applied. Many students with brilliance get faded in those examinations and assessments, while many students with faded brilliance get their way up to success and resultant access to many opportunities of career and personal development. These examinations and assessments, as the case has been, are mostly about content knowledge of the subject matter, are prone to misjudge and thus there is every chance of lower grades obtained by brilliant students and good grades by those who know the techniques of answering the questions posed. You might have seen in your experience that someone with good performance in class might come up as failure in an examination, while someone not so good in class, might secure very good marks or position. Obviously, this sort of examination has little to do with ascertaining the capabilities of the candidate, rather they rely on accidental performance in content knowledge.
Inequalities also result from irregularities in the examinations and assessments due to the use of unfair means. There is a long list of unfair means, which have been in practice at various educational institutions and examination bodies across the country. Some of these include prior-information about examination and assessment papers, plagiarism, faulty evaluation of the papers, lack of quality checking due to rush of the checkers in pursuit of getting large number of papers checked, favors given by test taker or checker, numbers assigned under pressure or any other obligation and so on. In a situation like that, the whole process becomes questionable as well as the grades obtained by the students. The high grades achieved through these practices are helpful for the students in making their way to opportunities, but their availing the opportunities is liability to the society, which then loses its credibility in terms of transparency, merit, responsibility and accountability.
One of the instances of inequalities in having access to opportunities and career development is the criteria of Higher Education Commission (HEC) that no lower grade holder could be considered for jobs in institutions under its umbrella. Similarly, main public sector recruitment bodies including Federal Public Services Commission (FPSC) and Provincial Service Commissions also mentions the same criteria for public sector jobs putting restrictions on the those with lower grade. Due to this restriction, many good candidates, who might have not performed well in their examination and obtained lower grade, are not entitled to enter in the Central Superior Services (CSS) and provincial level competitive examination and thus become victim of the exclusion.
What needs to be pondered over is why universities allow for lower grade if there is no place for this? Educational institutions should not consider a student pass until they get better grades instead of declaring them pass and pushing them to the job market which does not accept their qualification. Secondly, why has it been assumed that those having lower grades have no capabilities for the positions in public or private sector. One of the answers could be that there should be at least some criteria for shortlisting the candidates for any particular position, so one of the criteria could be excluding those with lower grades. If this is the case, it is utter injustice to the holders of lower grades, who for whatever reason– be it unfamiliarity with the examination techniques, some health issue during the exam, not clearly understanding the question the way they have been communicated, presence of stress during the exam, lack of writing skills from the examination point of views and so on. There could be multiple ways of shortlisting the candidates, and relying on the restricting lower grades on one hand deprives the candidate of the opportunity, and secondly, there could be chance of losing good talent as result of barring them.
For improvement in overall situation, some of the recommendations for consideration could be those discussed hereunder.
The current system of examinations and assessments should be reviewed and revised to overcome shortcomings and missing factors for more effective gauging of knowledge, skills and attitudes rather than just content knowledge.
Digital and Online testing systems need to be in place instead of manual systems. Educational institutions should give exposure to the students about online testing. These tests should not only be in English rather they should in National Language – Urdu as well.
The requirement of no acceptability of lower grades for public sector jobs or elsewhere should be abolished for greater fairness, competition as well as discouraging exclusion.
Unfair means in examinations and assessments should not be allowed and a comprehensive mechanism for this purpose should be developed as to dismantle this curse, which is widely spread and commonly practiced.
The much talked about uniform educational policy and implementation should look into restructuring the education system.
Aptitude based learning and training should be gradually introduced and promoted in education system.
On the job and during the job training and continuous learning should made regular feature of every public and private organizations and firms, whereby creating opportunities for bridging the gaps in capacities of the employees and new comers.
Capacity building should not be seen only at individual level, it should also include organizational and environmental capacity.