Curing the Public Examinations

by Nirupoma Chowdhury

Jarina Begum, who is a domestic worker, was widowed five years back. Since then she has been working hard for her only son. If she is asked about her hardships, she will answer you with a smile that her agonies and sorrows will go away when her son passes his Matric and then IA. Jarina is not the only mother whose dreams are surrounded with her son’s passing Matric and IA; there are thousands of mothers in our country who are dreaming about their off springs, in spite of several hardships they face.

Previously known as Matric and IA are now recognised as the Secondary School Certificate Examination (or SSC) and the Higher Secondary Certificate Examination (or HSC). These are the two biggest public examinations of our country. Every year about a million of students appear in SSC and HSC examinations.

Our Secondary and Higher Secondary Education System:

In our country a common view on examination is that it is separate from teaching and learning, both theoretically and in practise. According to this view, a test is a necessary but unpleasant imposition. But actually testing and teaching are closely interrelated. The SSC examination is the first biggest test the students face after their ten years of schooling. As our secondary and higher secondary education system is divided into ten plus two years system, so our students appear in the first public examination after completion of ten years of secondary education and they face the second public examination after the two years of higher secondary education. There are five education boards in our country. These are Dhaka, Chittagong, Comilla, Jessore and Rajshahi. Under these five education boards these public examinations are held.

Syllabus and Curriculum:

The questions of the SSC examination are set up according to the syllabus taught in class nine and ten. Students can choose any one group from three different streams – science, humanities and commerce. On the other hand, students appear in the HSC examination after studying the syllabus taught in class eleven and twelve. In this level also students can choose any one group from the three streams. Students who passed the SSC having science can change the stream, but students having humanities or commerce cannot migrate into the science stream. However they can interchange within humanities and commerce. Syllabus plays a very important role in the testing process as the questions of the examination are absolutely depended on the ascertained syllabus. All the students with whom I talked about the examination system, mentioned about the syllabus and curriculum. Most of the students are not satisfied with the present syllabus. They mentioned that most of the topics, which they are studying, are not sufficient for the practical life. Besides, these are not properly designed. So they face difficulties in their professional life, as they cannot properly implement those knowledge. Chairman of the Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board, Dhaka Dr. A. T. M. Sharifullah talked about the deficiency of the syllabus and curriculum designed for the SSC and the HSC level. He mentioned that these deficiencies are the reasons, which make our students unskilled and inefficient even after completing ten or twelve years of studying. He also added a very important thing. He said that as a nation we are loosing our morality, our humanity; we are deteriorating day by day. He stressed on including the moral education as a compulsory subject in the secondary and the higher secondary education. Dr. Sharifullah added that the Secondary and Higher Secondary students should be taught about humanity and moralism. This kind of education will help the students to keep away from adopting unfairmeans in all spheres of lives.


While talking about the teachers teaching in the secondary and higher secondary levels, most of the teachers whom I interviewed, expressed their dissatisfaction. They mentioned that most of the school and college teachers of our country are not well skilled, they are not properly trained. Even Dr. Sharifullah mentioned that in spite of upgrading the syllabus, the total educational structure has not yet improved due to lack of skill on the part of the teachers. On the other hand, the concerned teachers stated that the training they have been provided with after the introduction of the new revised syllabus was not sufficient enough to upgrade their skills. Some students and their parents complained that teachers are not sincere towards their profession. Many of them are mostly occupied with private tutions, which results in the deterioration of their performance within the classrooms.

Procedure of examinations:

Questions: The question papers set for the public examinations like the SSC or HSC examinations, are quite prototypes. Typical questions without any variation are being repeated for years. A well experienced teacher of a renowned government school of Dhaka city mentioned that in the western countries, a group of people work for the whole year to set the questions for the public examinations. The questions of public examinations should be analytical to judge the depth of knowledge of the examinees. Same questions should not be repeated over years.

But the picture in our country is a different one. If any one goes through the last five years question papers of either the SSC or the HSC examinations, he/she will find a tradition of having an astonishing similarity in the question papers set for the odd years and for the even years. Accordingly, the examinee knows about the topics that he/she can omit and the topics that are most important as per the year of his/her examination. Thus the education of the examinee becomes suggestion and note based; eventually his/her education remains incomplete. Meritorious students, conscious teachers and sightful parents are against these conventions. Questions should be based on the overall syllabus. Questions should be analytical, problem solving and innovative. So the examinees need not memorise the answers. They have to answer the questions with their own capability. Only this kind of questions can evaluate the students aptitude and the level of their knowledge. A concerned official of the Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board, Dhaka informed that the board authority is going to take a bold step in changing the traditionally set question papers in the public examinations of the new millennium. Board authority is pretty determined in their decision and necessary steps have already been taken for the purpose.

It is known all over the world that multiple choice question or MCQ system is the best procedure to evaluate the students. But this system has not been properly implemented in our public examinations. At the beginning of the MCQ system at the SSC level, the situation was made even worse by introducing the so-called “question bank” containing 500 questions for each subject. After much criticism for the concerned parts, the “question bank” was abolished. Still the present system is not up to the mark as MCQ system has been omitted for important subjects like Mathematics and English. In the HSC level, there is no sign of introducing the MCQ system.

Mismanagement and corruption: Every year after the very first day of the public examinations all the daily newspapers headline the expulsion of thousands of examinees for adopting unfairmeans within the exam halls. In some places there are processions demanding the scope for copying within the exam halls. Clashes between the law enforcement agencies and the miscreants involved in copying is not rare during public examinations. Though surprising, but it is true that even some teachers and guardians are sometimes found involved in helping the examinees in their unfair business. The public examinations should be absolutely fair and free from all sorts of corruption. If the schools and colleges conduct their selection tests for the SSC and the HSC examinations properly and allow only the competent students to appear in the public examinations, then it will reduce unfairmeans in these examinations. On the other hand, there should be stringency in holding the examinations. Students or teachers involved in any corruption in public examinations should be given exemplary punishment.

Evaluation System: Presently the evaluation system of our public examinations is conventional. Students are evaluated on the basis of their obtained marks. Grading system, which is accepted everywhere as a better evaluation system, is not followed in case of our public examinations. Grading system will make our education system more acceptable and transferable for a student opting to go abroad for higher education. In the present system if an examinee gets below 30% marks, he/she will be treated as a failing student even if he/she has 70% or more in another subject. But in the grading system, the result will be shown as a “B” or an “F”. So the next year the examinee will not have to sit for the whole exam, but only for the particular subjects in which he/she wants to upgrade. While asked about the feasibility of introducing the grading system in our public examinations, the Chairman of the Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board, Dhaka stated that the present curriculum is not adaptable with the grading system and only the policy makers of the government can approve such initiatives.

Wastage of education year: Just two decades back, one could complete his/her post graduation at the age of twenty two. But now it takes three or four years more. One of the reasons behind this is that after passing the HSC examination students have to wait for about a year for their university classes to start. If it was possible in those days to start the university classes in the same year of appearing the HSC exam, why is it impossible now? It is inspiring that the education board authorities have taken steps to stop this wastage of valuable education year. It has been decided that the SSC examination will begin on the first Thursday of March each year and the HSC examination will start on the last Thursday of April. Results of these examinations will be published within 80-85 days. Mark sheets will be provided within fifteen days after the publication of the result. If the Board authorities implement these decisions, it will be easier on the part of the university authorities to formulate their academic year accordingly.


As public examination effects the mass lives, it is expected that the problems and irregularities associated with these examinations be eradicated immediately. Concerned parties should be more vigilant and strict in stopping corruption in public exams. The syllabus and the curriculum meant for the SSC and the HSC level should be modernised and definitely the teachers have to be properly trained to teach the upgraded syllabus with efficiency. More attention has to be given in formulating standard and analytical questions. Sincerity is required on the part of the teachers in evaluating the answer script properly and in time. The five education boards have taken some bold and time befitting decisions regarding the public examinations. Now it is their responsibility to implement those.

As the public examinations reflect the national standard and potentiality, time has come to pay more attention about the improvisation of the public examinations, otherwise we will be drawn backwards from the forwarding world.

The author is a Faculty Member of School of English, Queens University, Dhaka.