Online testing: is it the key to improving tech in the Caribbean classroom?

Online testing is becoming a reality across the Caribbean, but now as the rubber is hitting the road, countries are beginning to grapple with the challenges to its successful implementation.

 

At a town hall in Dominica last week, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Roosevelt Skerrit, lamented that the country’s Ministry of Education had been asking for more funds to increase the number of computers in schools. The Ministry’s request was being driven by the decision of regional examination body, the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), to move to online testing.

The introduction of online testing by CXC has been lauded in many quarters. We are all living in the digital age. Everyone is expected to be computer/technology proficient, and the upcoming generations should all be digital natives; it is thus an obvious expectation for online testing to become the norm. Further, there are several benefits that can be realised through online testing, including the following:

  • Online tests can be administered independent of location
  • Online tests can be graded more quickly than other methods, and so can be more efficient
  • The logistics around the collection and distribution of physical papers to examiners for assessment can be simplified (or avoided altogether)
  • Depending on the exam, and especially for multiple choice papers, candidates can get their results in (almost) real time
  • Online testing can be cheaper for candidates, especially when remote testing allowed.

However, as outlined in an earlier article, Will CXC’s plan to move to electronic testing be successful?, with the move to online testing, the requisite underpinning structures must be in place. According to Prime Minister Skerrit, Dominica is beginning to get a sense of the requirements that not only need to be satisfied, but also maintained:

Education is asking for more money and one of the things with education is that the CXC is now going to have examinations online and the Ministry of Education, the government now must buy computers for every secondary school in Dominica,…

Because you cannot have a computer room and it’s closed and you’re not maintaining it, you need to have staff to maintain it, you need to have people to fix them if they go bad. So there is not only going to be a capital cost to this request, there is going to have to be a recurrent cost…

Source:  Da Vibes

To a considerable degree, initiatives to have computers in Caribbean schools started almost 20 years ago  The first requirement would have been to have a computer lab to allow students to prepare for CXC O’level exams in computing/IT. However, by the mid 2000s, the need for Internet access in schools would soon became a priority. For many countries across the region, there has been the opportunity to tap into the Universal Access/Service Fund for telecoms to build out much-needed infrastructure to support broadband Internet access to schools, and even to subsidise the ongoing cost for those services.

Over the past seven to 10 years, increasingly, the focus has broadened to bringing technology into the classroom, thus precipitating programmes, such as one laptop (or tablet)  per student, to address that need. However, some of the challenges Prime Minister Skerrit has identified, especially with respect to the ongoing maintenance of computing devices, are issues that many countries have not decisively addresses, although they have several have implemented initiatives to get computing devices in the hands of their students and/or their families.

Having said this, the inherent demands of permitting online testing in the Caribbean – and especially for such a crucial set of examinations as those administered by CXC – may be the impetus needed to get Caribbean governments to commit the requisite funds and resources to education, and specifically, the use of technology in education. Dominica is not the only country in the region that needs to up its game. It will thus be interesting to witness the alacrity with which other countries across the region remedy the challenges to effective online testing, and by extension, the quality of the technology in classroom programmes

 

Image credit:  Pmspratik (Wikipedia)

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