How to cure the schools exam fiasco

The recent A-level examination fiasco raises important questions for all of us to consider. One view is that traditional paper...

The recent A-level examination fiasco raises important questions for all of us to consider. One view is that traditional paper and pen methods of testing simply do not work in today's digital age and have no place in the real world.

So why do our existing academic establishments still demand this outdated form of assessment? Is there an alternative to the current system? Is electronic testing the way forward for our education system? How does this affect the IT industry? More importantly, do the current curriculum and test systems provide the IT industry with enough capable and skilled graduates to fill the existing skills gap within our industry? I think not.

Electronic testing already exists and was actually 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 a touch of a button.

Today's nursing staff are required to take electronic tests. So are pilots. Even people taking the UK driving test with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency use electronic testing for some parts of the driving test. And for the IT industry, it is absolutely crucial. Testing centres in the UK are made up of traditional IT training centres and/or providers as well as several colleges that offer it.

The IT market is flooded with both supplier and supplier-neutral 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, why are millions of pounds being poured into educating our young people even though 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 am not alone in this opinion either. A new report issued by E-Skills UK warns that IT education currently does not meet the demands of the industry and that 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 its 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 also drive the industry forward in the future.

IT employers can provide a better career path for their employees through regular training and global certification. Our schools need to review their IT training curriculum and adopt new testing and evaluation methods that meet the demands of the industry.

It is tragic that we needed the A-level examination 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 almost so any examination is a reflection of actual work scenarios.

This will ensure that our young people walk out of school with one foot already in the real world. That is education indeed.

Mathew Poyiadgi is regional director at CompTIA

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