UK head teacher: Paper exams to be replaced by e-assessment


David Hanson, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools in Britain, will delegate his prediction of a radical change in the education system on the Association's annual conference this week. He has claimed to the British media that traditional pen and paper exam has been out of date and pupils in the UK will sit exams on computer by the year 2023.

According to Mr Hanson, as a new generation of teachers who have grown up in a digital era enter the classrooms, the education system as well has to go through a big transformation. Hanson told the Telegraph that he hardly saw any change of the exam methods since the Victorian times, and such pen and paper exams have brought many "printing and logistical" problems to schools in exam paper delivery and collection. In addition, manual marking of papers by individuals could not avoid mistakes. Hanson also thought that the current exams were tough for both those to sit and those who mark the papers. "That's not necessary. It's expensive and it's subject to all sorts of variables, not least human failure," said him, "It's no longer fit for purpose; it's hugely expensive and results are unreliable because it's too dependent on individuals sitting down and marking."

Hanson would like to see pupils take online exams on computers which can assess each one's ability and adjust the difficulty level of questions as he/she proceeds. He told the BBC News that the Independent School Exam Board had already been trying an e-assessment system for those 13-year-olds who applied for senior school to take school entrance exams. The Exam Board is said to have delivered 900,000 onscreen tests to schools and colleges. Hanson believed that online exam could get rid of the printing and logistical problems of papers and mistakes made by those who mark the papers.

Exam boards in the UK said that they had been "using digital technology" to mark A-Levels and GCSEs. Collected papers were scanned to a central computer, and then different questions were sent to specialists of different fields to mark instead of having one specialist marking the whole paper, which is considered to make the paper marking process quicker, safer and fairer to pupils. Simon Lebus of the exam board OCR said that different subjects were likely to migrate (to e-assessment) at different times, reported the BBC News.

Nonetheless, the exam boards also warned that there were still lots of issues to consider before introducing online exams to schools. For instance, schools may have to update their hardware and expand the broadband on campus to meet the need of everyone who will sit the exam. Another question is that replacing traditional exams with online exams may be unfair to students who are less tech-literate. Further speaking, many have warned that over-dependence on digital device will harm pupil's key skills like literacy.

Though the migration from pen and paper to digital device may be challenging for those less digitally competent, those having dyslexic problems can benefit from e-device, a US study said. According to the BBC News on Sept. 19, scientists have 100 pupils read on paper and e-readers, and found that those who had had difficulties in reading or whose visual span were smaller read faster and understood better on e-readers. The study suggested that it is because text on e-readers is displayed in short lines with fewer words, which help pupils focus more on each word. The British Dyslexia Association added that e-book formats and readers were more user-friendly than traditional paper files for dyslexic people since there were lots of fonts, sizes, spacing and colours available for readers to choose, and people can refer to built-in dictionaries once they met a new word that they did not know. Moreover, some e-reader allowed text-to-speech software, which might also be a big help.

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