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Our View: Physics fiasco mob rule by another name

Our authorities have a talent for allowing things to degenerate into farce. This is primarily because very few people in positions of authority are willing to take personal responsibility for an issue on which there is opposition and would much rather allow decisions to be dictated by interest groups than make a public fuss. It is mob rule, but we like to call it consensus decision-making.

This lunacy has been witnessed over the last few days, when students and parents complained that a question on the physics paper in the end of year national exams for school leavers was not phrased clearly and many students did not understand it. Nobody knows how many students actually did not understand the question – it may have been five or 100. A few parents wrote to complain to the confederation of parents of secondary schools, which forwarded the letters to the education ministry and also publicised the issue in the press.

The ministry, in order to satisfy the complainants, decided to award the 10 points given for a correct answer to the question to all the students that sat the exams. The president of the parents’ confederation saw the ministry’s decision to award everyone 10 marks as an admission there was a problem with the exam question, but was there? After this ludicrous decision, students that understood the question and answered it complained, with some justification, that they had been penalised.

Had they not answered that question, like other students, they would have received 10 marks for it and had more time for other questions in the exam, they argued. In order to shut them up, the ministry decided to award them the marks they had scored in answering the question, in addition to the 10 marks everyone was awarded. Some really smart students might get a score higher than full marks for the physics exam, thanks to the wisdom of the education ministry mandarins.

If some students answered correctly, the question was not as badly phrased as some claimed it was. The education ministry, rather than face a little criticism, went for the easy option, which it has resorted to in past years. The confederation of parents said “we relied on the practice of past years, when in the case of a mistake, all marks were awarded.” There was no mistake if some students understood the question and answered it correctly.

The only mistake was committed by the ministry, which gave in to pressure from organised parents that have been given the right to decide which exam questions are difficult to understand. Are parents educationalists that have to be listened to? No, they are merely conveying the view of a few students that found a question difficult to answer. And in our crazy world the students have a say regarding which exam questions are not valid.

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