The requirements for school curricula and the examination process typically include that they should give students the necessary subject knowledge and understanding, encourage children’s creativity and curiosity, provide tools for critical thinking and move them away from rote learning, instill values in students, and pave the way for those students to become independent and well-rounded learners. There has been and will continue to be great discussion about the specifics of what goes into each of these areas as education and the need for it change throughout time.
In Pakistan, students who are enrolled in school have the option of choosing from three different curricula and examination systems: matriculation/intermediate, O- and A-levels, and, though still on a small scale, the International Baccalaureate (IB) system.
The local system, which is comprised of matriculation and intermediate, is by far the most popular and affordable choice. Students are prepared for these tests in almost all public schools as well as the majority of low- to middle-priced private schools. Exams are organized by regional boards of intermediate and secondary education, which also includes the Aga Khan Board, however there is some cooperation between the regional boards across the nation, allowing for a high degree of comparability between exams. In spite of this, some boards, such as the Federal Board, have a marginally better reputation than others.
The majority of individuals would concur that the matriculation/intermediate test is essentially a rote-based system both in perception and in fact. Despite reform efforts, the examination still does not assess comprehension or promote wider reading, including critical reading. Students are not prepared to be autonomous learners through it. Although the curriculum is extensive and weighty, it is not taught correctly and is not adequately evaluated, as many people have written about. There is an over reliance on summative evaluations.
We must choose the most relevant and practical curriculum or examination method. However, the main benefit of taking the matriculation/intermediate test is that it is local, supported and administered by the government, and it is reasonably inexpensive, therefore for the majority of students, the examination cost is not a substantial obstacle to passing with a passing mark.
In the UK, the O-/A-level system is used. In terms of the curriculum and examinations, it is thought to be of a far better caliber. The curriculum does promote a broader scope, and exams typically measure understanding rather than rote memorization. Both the improvement of writing skills and critical thinking are given some attention. Over the past few decades, however, Pakistani teachers and educational institutions have “cracked” the code for passing O- and A-level exams, and some short cuts have been created: there is a significant amount of dependence on secondary sources, teachers’ notes, and preparing previous exam questions. However, compared to the matriculation system, it is still thought to have a much better curriculum and examination structure.
It is, however, far more expensive. The price of offering quality O- and A-level test preparation is thus significantly more expensive than the examination fee alone. This is why the O-/A-level option is typically only available at higher price schools. Even if the differences in curricula and examinations may be less pronounced when income and other self-selection effects are taken into account, most parents and higher education institutions in Pakistan have quite different opinions about the two systems. If resources allow, parents should prefer O-/A-levels due to that perceptual difference alone. This explains why this choice has been more widely available in Pakistan during the past few decades.
In Pakistan at least, the IB system is the new kid on the block. It makes an effort to cultivate a more comprehensive understanding across disciplines fairly clearly. In order to make citizens who are more “global,” it also strives to address global issues. Through project- or activity-based learning in teams, it emphasizes the development of independent learning, interpersonal skills, and critical thinking. Summative and formative tests are used in the assessments. Some evidence is found in the research literature to support the IB system’s ability to fulfil some of these claims.
With its focus on engagement and teamwork, the IB system does place higher expectations on both teachers and students. It takes more time and work from both parties. Additionally, it calls for more in terms of the infrastructure of the institution, including better computing resources, library improvements, and improved departmental coordination. Before the IB system can be implemented in schools, teachers must go through a period of training. The cost of provision is greatly increased by all of this. Therefore, it is not surprising that just about 15 schools in Pakistan currently offer the IB, and all of them charge extremely exorbitant tuition.
Parents and students should consider some difficulties both on an individual and a group level. There is a price for high-quality education. That cost must be borne by someone; it may be the society, the parents, or the kids. We must choose the curriculum or examination method that is the most suitable and practical as parents and students. Education is an investment in the future and affects multiple generations significantly. What do we want to guarantee for our kids?
We must tackle this issue together as a society. The public benefit component of education is quite substantial, and it has significant externalities. We desire that all kids have access to high-quality education. But what standard of quality and pricing should be considered to be acceptable? Is matriculation sufficient? And reasonably priced? Do the matriculation/intermediate curriculum and testing system need to be changed? Or should the state provide financial aid to kids who choose the O-/A-level or IB route? What is the best option for public policy in this situation? Are the results of having three systems too unequally distributed? Should we continue to accept this diversity? What would be the most effective strategy to lower it if not?
The curriculum and exam concerns have an impact on education quality. We must make decisions in this regard as a society and as individuals. Additionally, these decisions will have an impact on both the present and future of the nation.