Parliament: Electronic exams on the cards; Cambridge tie-up has boosted Singapore's education reputation

SINGAPORE – In time to come, students could take more examinations on digital devices instead of writing essays by hand, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has received positive feedback from students about its introduction of computer-based writing examinations as a pilot in a few subjects, such as mother tongue and literature, Mr Ong said in Parliament on Monday (Feb 11).

“Students can more readily cut and paste, edit their essays, move paragraphs around. They can be asked to respond to an e-mail, write a blog or social media post, which better reflects real life situations that students will go through later in life,” he said.

But such electronic exams are still some distance away, he added. “We need to take into account the readiness of schools and students… We should not inadvertently disadvantage students who may not be exposed to computers as much as others.”

Mr Ong was responding to five MPs who had asked if the MOE had plans to introduce electronic exams or marking, and if it was possible for all GCE examination papers to be marked locally to minimise the risk of scripts being lost in transit.

Last month, it was disclosed that 32 O-level Additional Mathematics Paper 2 scripts were lost on a train in Britain. In 2017, a parcel containing A-level Chemistry answer scripts from 238 Singapore students was stolen from a locked courier van en route to an examiner in Britain.

Mr Ong said that while MOE and the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) decide on the standards and grades for national examinations, Cambridge Assessment is engaged to develop and mark GCE N/O/A-level examinations because of its strong global expertise and experience.

“This arrangement has worked well over the years,” he said, adding that Cambridge Assessment uses about 2,200 professors and experienced educators from universities and higher institutions to mark the scripts.

Each year, about 1.1 million answer scripts are generated from the GCE examinations, with 800,000 of them marked by Cambridge Assessment. The rest – comprising mother tongue language, social studies and coursework components – are marked locally.

Mr Ong noted that marking all the scripts locally would require “a very substantial amount of highly qualified resources”.

“We need to be mindful too about the workload and well-being of our teachers,” he said, as marking would take place during the school vacation period, and there is a tight timeline between the exams and the release of results.

Nominated MP Walter Theseira asked if the MOE could study the cost of arranging for marking to be done locally.

“There should be no question internationally about the credibility of our examination system if it were to be done all locally. Singapore has established a good reputation in that regard, and I’m confident that if it were to be done locally, there should be no issue with our students and our credentials,” he said.

Replying, Mr Ong said that by the end of this year, marking for all GCE examinations would be shifted online, so there should be less concern about losing scripts.

He said that SEAB and Cambridge Assessment has been working closely to mark hard-copy answer scripts electronically since 2015.

“The deeper question is (about) this collaboration with Cambridge Assessment. I fully agree with the Member that (in terms of) Singapore’s reputation in education… we are at a good position to do this ourselves, and harness the resources, to mark the papers, set the questions,” he said.

“But I think we are where we are too because of a certain earnestness to learn from different systems around the world and to work with different credible reputable systems around the world.

“Cambridge helped us, raised us to this level of international reputation, so it’s a collaboration that is still worthwhile keeping while mitigating the risk of lost scripts.”

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