Thursday, 7 March 2013

Why handwritten exams?

ALevel students, as I'm sure many of you know, have exams at the end of the year. Our current education minister Michael Gove is actually pushing for the whole assessment of their education to be a single end-of-year paper. Because the papers are handwritten by the students, throughout the year they have to complete exercises that involve them writing large quantities to ensure they are prepared for an exam at the end of the year.

Because of this, we have to keep printing out papers for students to complete.

So is there an alternative? Well, we could certainly insist that every young person has a tablet device that is compatible with writing responses to an exam paper pdf, but given that more than a quarter of people live in "low-income households" it is difficult to justify pushing that additional cost onto them. Similarly, as the budget is continuously chipped away from education, it is more than slightly intimidating to consider the cost of issuing every student a tablet device for the forseeable future.

But that's only if the exam papers remain handwritten. What about the other possibility? Why do the exam papers have to be handwritten? Can that be changed?

Well, I have given this some thought, and I think there is at least one viable alternative.

Have you heard of the Raspberry Pi? It's a computer, about the size of a credit card, and costs £15. It's developed by a British charity and well worth looking into.

Now, imagine if, instead of printing and mailing papers, the exam boards put a copy of their paper onto the Pi, and mailed one per student out to each participating college? The college would plug the Pis in, attach a monitor, keyboard and mouse, and the student could type their responses as they would in every other aspect of life.

In terms of security: Each student would register on the device with their student ID, in the same way they fill out the front of the exam paper. We could easily have the Pis locked until a specific time, so the exam only became accessible when it was supposed to be. And once the exam boards receive all the Pis they could upload all the papers to their own storage (as some already do) prior to marking, then wipe and reset the Pis for reuse the following year.

This way, we don't have to keep training students in handwriting, and exam boards save a fortune (and many forests) in paper costs. And, as the Pi is smaller and lighter than an exam paper, they would arguably save on postage too.