NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 31

A Level equivalence issues yet to be resolved

Different education systems are running in the country currently and the O and A Levels system has been very popular among the elite class of Pakistan, like various other countries of the region.

The O-Level (Ordinary Level) is a subject-based qualification conferred as part of the General Certificate of Education (GCE). It was introduced as part of British educational reform in the 1950s, alongside the more in-depth and academically rigorous Advanced Level (A-Level) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The system is predominantly exam-based. The sociological researcher, Dr. Madsen Pirie, found that the O-Level was advantageous to boys because of exam-based learning. From 1963, passing grades for the O-Level were 1 to 6 or A, B, C, D and E. In the former case, grades 7 to 9, and in the latter case U (Unclassified), were classified as a fail. From the summer of 1975 onwards, all boards adopted the same system, with grades A to C equivalent to the previous pass grades. At the same time, a change was made from numerical (1-6) grades to alphabetic grades (A-E).

In 1988, O-Level qualifications in various parts of the UK were replaced by a new system, the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). However, the O-Level is still used in many Commonwealth countries, such as Bangladesh, Brunei, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and also in Trinidad and Tobago. Some British schools also reverted to exams based on the O-Levels.

The Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) had announced that it would begin offering O and A Level classes at some of its schools. It hoped that children from deprived backgrounds would be able to appear in the same examinations as their affluent peers and that this will help bridge the divide between them. Sounds good, but while they have good intentions, implementing such a policy would still not tackle the biggest disadvantage that children from deprived areas face: lack of equal opportunities. The students, who want to study in Pakistan after their A-Level and want to get admission to some competitive colleges and universities, like government medical colleges or engineering universities in Pakistan, are not provided with equal opportunities. These educational institutions do not accept the grades obtained in O and A Levels, and convert the grades obtained by the students of the equivalent of Matriculation or FSc, respectively. The conversion is done in such a manner that it reduces the marks of students to very low. According to the Inter-Board Committee of Chairmen rules, straight A’s are equated with only 990 marks of FSc.

A large number of A-Level students face disappointment and feel discouraged as they may be unable to get admission to medical and other professional colleges. A good number of FSc students are now getting more than 1,000 marks, leaving little room for A-Level students. Also the entrance tests are based on FSc syllabus and they have little time to prepare for them.

Private educational institutions that provide O and A Level education to students have deplored the situation and urged the authorities concerned to review the process of equivalence.

A representative of the UK examination board Edexcel in Pakistan said that they had meetings with the IBCC on the issue and hoped for a positive change. “There is a need to rationalise the process of giving equivalence. In the current situation, where the level of attainment has risen there is a need to review the process. We should have dialogue on the issue and rationalise the process so that there is no heartburning,” he added.

Mrs. Ayesha Zaigham, who served as principal of LACAS and Beaconhouse Defence Campus, Lahore, condemned the IBCC for cutting the marks of A and O Level students. “In all schools only the best students are given the option to study for O and A Level exams. Others are asked to appear in the Matriculation exam. They are the cream of society – the best and the most beautiful minds brimming with ideas. It is a great injustice when they fail to get admission to local higher educational institutions.

“Those who go for engineering or the medical profession love it and want to excel. When they are discouraged due to our flawed system, you are destroying their creativity. They work extremely hard to get A’s. They are given equivalence cut marks, which is not justified.

“The equivalence system is flawed and should be done away with. I am so keen that there should be one system of education. But the government is bent upon creating disparity. Instead of raising their own standards they are victimizing O and A Level students. There is nobody you can turn to. For example, if the IBCC does take action in future, who is responsible for destroying the careers of thousands of affected students? The IBCC is destroying the lives of thousands of brilliant students,” Mrs. Zaigham added.

The principal of Lahore Grammar School told Cutting Edge that the process of giving equivalence to foreign qualification as well as entrance tests for admission to medical and other professional colleges were unfair. “First of all, there should be acceptance of a foreign education system. If you are cutting down their marks that means you are not accepting it. The marks conversion formula is not fair. This is resulting in the fact that Cambridge students are unable to get admission to medical colleges. The entrance tests are based on FSc, which is also not fair. They are discouraging A Level students when they are not accepting their marks. It is not only medical colleges, but Kinnaird College, too, has started to discourage A Level students and is catering more to those who have passed local board exams,” she added.