A-level crisis: time for e-testing?

Matthew Poyiadgi of IT training association CompTIA believes we need to rethink the UK's exam system

Matthew Poyiadgi of IT training association CompTIA believes we need to rethink the UK's exam system

The recent A-level examination fiasco raises two important issues for those of us in the IT industry. One is that traditional paper-and-pen methods of testing simply do not work in the digital age. The other concern is that today's curriculum and testing systems do not provide the IT industry with the talented people needed to fill the ongoing skills gap.

Electronic testing could be the way forward for our education system. Effective solutions already exist that have been designed to take the examination process into the new century. The sophistication of today's electronic testing systems is quite mind-blowing. For example, electronic tests can simulate real working environments and test an individual on actual work scenarios.

Not only is it more robust and secure but it is faster, more efficient and the time and cost saving compared to human invigilators marking papers is outstanding.

Electronic testing means no human error or interference, which certainly could have circumvented the recent A-level crisis. Formulae can also prevent or track any attempt at cheating, as well as report, analyse and compute trends at the touch of a button.

Today's nurses are required to take electronic tests. So are pilots. Even people taking the UK driving test with the DVLA use electronic testing. And for the IT industry, it is absolutely crucial.

The IT market is flooded with both supplier-run and independent training courses that can be embarked upon through a variety of learning methods ranging from self-study modules to external training. Most of these training programmes, especially supplier-driven programmes, require examination at the end of the training period.

While this is certainly commendable, it does make me wonder how, with millions of pounds being poured into educating our children, many graduates still leave college or university lacking any real-world skills that will make them immediately employable without the need for further entry-level IT training.

I do not stand alone in this opinion. A new report issued by E-Skills UK warns that IT education currently does not meet the demands of the industry and says greater collaboration is required between employers and educators to address the continuing skills shortage.

However, the Government is not solely to blame. The report also criticises the IT industry for failing to invest in ongoing skills development for IT staff.

Like a tree that needs a good mix of soil, water and sunlight to develop strong roots, the IT industry and the academic institutions need to work together to nurture and develop a strong, employable workforce that will not only answer our current skills problem, but drive the industry forward in the future.

It is tragic that we needed the A-levels crisis in order to become more aware of where the gaps actually lie. Regardless of what method our society will eventually deploy, whether it is electronic testing or some other form of examination, training and testing needs to closely align to the world at work.

Any examination should, as close as possible, be a reflection of actual work scenarios. This will ensure that the young generation walk out of school with one foot already in the real world. That is education indeed.

Matthew Poyiadgi is international sales and marketing director of CompTIA

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