In 1995, i.e. a decade ago, 16 private
schools in Pakistan wrote to the Aga Khan University (AKU) expressing their
concern about the deteriorating standard of secondary education and identified
the current examination system as a major cause behind it. They further
requested AKU, being "an established educational institution of high repute
in the country... to set up an examination board for holding the matric
examination and awarding the SSC certificates."
At first the University was reluctant
to undertake such a school-based activity, preferring to concentrate on higher
education. However, following persistent requests of this type from several
quarters, consultations with schools, students, educationists and policymakers
confirmed that a critical weakness of Pakistan's education system was its
examination methodology which is designed primarily as a test of memory based on
a single textbook. Combined with the need for high scores to pursue advanced
education, this mode of examinations promotes rote learning in schools at the
expense of comprehension of concepts and application of knowledge.
The poor quality of examinations has
been documented in at least 35 government reports between 1959 and 1993. One
such report stated that rote learning is reinforced by the "pattern of
question papers" which in turn "defeats the basic targets of education
which are acquisition, understanding and application of knowledge". These
reports also highlight the erosion of the credibility of examination results due
to "large scale and unhampered cheating".
Within Pakistan good public and private
universities are increasingly using their own entrance tests to supplement or
replace results from the current examination boards, while Pakistani school
qualifications bear very little international recognition or repute. The result,
as is well known, has been the rapid growth of the Cambridge 'O' and 'A' level
system run from the UK. Although these examinations are generally reliable, they
are very expensive and are based on a foreign curriculum.
In response to the concerns outlined
above, the University's Board of Trustees in 1998 - that is seven years ago -
appointed a task force to assess the feasibility of an alternative examination
system. The membership of the task force included representation from schools
using existing public Board examinations as well as national consultants who
provided insight into the government policies and national curricula. In 1999
the group recommended to the Board of Trustees the creation of an examination
service as a function of the University, with its main objective being to
improve the quality of education in schools throughout Pakistan.
In 2000, the Board of Trustees approved
the recommendation of the task force, subject to approval of the Government of
Pakistan, and emphasized the principal aim as being to offer high quality public
examinations using modern methods of assessment to test achievement within the
national curriculum so as to "have a significant impact on the quality of
education". Thereafter, with the encouragement of the Government of
Pakistan, the University applied for recognition of AKU-EB and was granted the
same in November 2002 through Ordinance CXIV of 2002. A copy of this Ordinance
is attached to this note.
The AKU-EB from the beginning was
envisaged as a small undertaking which would be able to serve as a role model.
In this respect it would play the same role as the University's School of
Nursing and Medical College, both of which, while remaining small, are generally
recognized to have had a major and wholly positive impact in their respective
The concept of an examination board
under the auspices of AKU was developed at least four years before funding
sources of $7.3million for the programme were identified. With the approval of
the Board of Trustees in 1999, the University committed to invest a portion of
these funds from its own resources. With the assistance of the Government,
funding possibilities were then explored with various international development
agencies, including the Asian Development Bank, the UK's DfID, the EU and
Germany's DEG, but without success. USAID was considered as a potential funding
source at the point when the Government of Pakistan was entering into an
agreement with the USA in 2002 by which the latter would provide support for the
Government's Educational Sector Reforms throughout Pakistan. Following extensive
dialogue with the Government, USAID, with the concurrence of the Government,
granted Rs.270M (US$4.5M) in August 2003 toward the initial operational cost of
AKU-EB. This is two thirds of the total project cost of Rs.438M (US$7.3M), with
the remaining cost of Rs.168M ($2.8M) being borne by the University. After the
initial start-up period of five years, the University expects to become solely
responsible for the AKU-EB's financial affairs.
Implementation of the project began in
2003 with the appointment of the first Director and staff of AKU-EB. It was not,
however, until early 2004 that statements appeared in the press claimed that all
public examination boards were to come under the control of AKU-EB. The
University's stance has always been clear in that it neither had any interest
in, nor the capacity to pursue such an endeavour, and furthermore for which it
did not in any event, have the authority. Its objectives, as mentioned above,
would be fully served by the establishment of an examination board in the
private sector. The establishment of another private board, the Askari Board,
has already been announced. This and other points of concern were explained to
leaders of certain political parties in June 2004 when they were also assured of
Inaccurate comments have continued in
the media over the past few months, directed not only at the University but more
recently also at the Ismaili community. This is disconcerting since the
University was formed as a statutory body by Charter granted by the Government
of Pakistan and is therefore distinct from the Ismaili community, whose members
have no control over its affairs. The University is governed by its Board of
Trustees and has increasingly become a national institution with intellectual
and financial support for its programmes coming from many diverse communities
and quarters across the country.
GOALS AND CHARACTERISTICS OF AKU-EB
Overall objective: The general
objective of the AKU-EB is to design and offer high quality public examinations
in English and Urdu based on the national curriculum for secondary and higher
secondary education. It will also arrange for training of teachers, and for
appropriate learning materials to prepare teachers and students for the new
examination system. It is intended to serve as a model of internationally
recognized good practice in order to enhance the country's capacity for
educational assessment and tests, and therefore to improve the quality of
education in schools, and through them, the quality of education in the national
WIDER RANGE AND ACCEPTABILITY OF SKILLS
The assessment methods to be used by
AKUEB will evaluate higher intellectual abilities of comprehension, logical
thinking and problem solving. As a result of a secure, valid and reliable
process for national and international comparability of academic achievement,
Pakistani students will become increasingly able to compete on equal terms for
entrance to leading academic institutions nationally and worldwide without
having to opt for the 'O' and 'A' level system. Consequently, the country will
evolve a more competitive position in the global knowledge-based economy. As
stated by two leading Pakistani economists in 1998, "Individuals and
societies that acquire constructive learning skills grow in knowledge and
progress further, realizing economic and other social benefits, while those who
do not, become increasingly marginal and dependent".
Scope and voluntary nature of AKU-EB:
The AKU-EB Ordinance provides for full credit and recognition of the
certificates awarded for achievement up to the level of higher secondary
education. Affiliation with AKU-EB is voluntary and its creation provides an
additional option to students of schools controlled by the Federal Government,
and also students of non-government schools throughout Pakistan and abroad. The
Ordinance provides for services to provincial government schools, but subject to
approval by the provincial governments.
GOVERNANCE OF AKU-EB:
The AKU-EB has a Board of Directors
which includes representation from many different stakeholders, including
schools, the public examination boards and the Higher Education Commission.
Several senior serving and retired civil servants and educationists have
accepted invitations to join the Board. The Chairman of the IBCC (Inter-Board
Committee of Chairmen of the Provincial and Federal Examination Boards) is an ex
officio member of the Board of Directors of AKU-EB to facilitate sharing of
information on performance with other examination boards and for transparency of
AKU-EB operations, while the Director of AKU-EB in turn is a member of the IBCC.
REASONABLE AND GRADED FEE STRUCTURE:
AKU-EB examinations, which will be
given in Urdu and English, will be made accessible to schools serving
individuals from all walks of life through a graded fee system. The fee for SSC
candidates from not-for-profit schools will be Rs.1500 and Rs.3000 for others.
This is more than the Rs.350-750 currently being charged by public boards
(although it is unclear whether these fees will remain the same when the
two-stage examination is introduced in place of the single-stage one now in
use). However, it is much less than the fee for a comprehensive Cambridge 'O'
Level certificate in Pakistan, which is about Rs.26,000. Consequently, students
who do not wish to follow a foreign curriculum or who cannot currently afford
'O' and 'A' level examinations will be able to access similar standards through
the AKU-EB system.
Many unjustified and inaccurate
statements about the programme and the University have been published in
numerous papers as of late. The purpose of this section is to demonstrate that
they are based on misapprehensions and misunderstandings of the basis on which
AKU-EB has been established and will operate.
It has been stated that AKU-EB will
change the national curriculum. However, the Ordinance under which AKU-EB was
established clearly states that it will "follow the national curriculum and
syllabi". The procedure by which detailed syllabi is developed begins with
the text of the national curriculum, and an extensive review process involving
experts and specialists ensures that all aspects of the national curriculum are
covered. The text of each syllabus document is deposited with the Curriculum
Wing of the Federal Ministry of Education.
It has been stated that AKU-EB's
objective is to take over government examination boards. However, AKU has
neither the intention nor the capacity to assume control over any other board.
The government has also made it clear many times that it has no plans to hand
over any examination board to AKU-EB. In 1998, the government boards served 1.2
million candidates for the SSC. At the growth rate of 2.9% annually, projected
from the preceding 5 years, this figure would be about 1.4 million candidates
today. Therefore, AKU-EB's targeted number of 27,000 candidates in 5 years is
only 2% of the countrywide total. Therefore, the issue of taking over another
Board is completely unfounded. As stated above, the Government expects AKU-EB to
develop a model of high quality examinations at the secondary and higher
secondary levels of education and to enhance the country's capacity for
educational assessment and tests through demonstration and sharing of experience
with other examination boards, in order to facilitate the improvement of
education in schools.
Statements have appeared in the press
that associate AKU-EB with a US agenda to secularize Pakistan via infiltration
of its education system. Some of these statements have made reference to funding
of AKU-EB by USAID. However, as already stated, AKU-EB was conceived and
developed without any prior reference to funding sources, and will abide by the
national curriculum. AKU-EB will examine students in all subjects, including
Islamiyat and Pakistan Studies, according to the national curriculum and
syllabi. The notion of 'secularisation' is therefore unfounded. Furthermore, for
over twenty years Aga Khan Development Network agencies have utilized grants
from many national and international developmental organizations for social
development in Pakistan, with the full knowledge, support and approval of every
Government, and have never misused such funds. Independent evaluations have
confirmed the effective use of such funds for national development purposes. The
notion of AKU-EB working against Pakistan's national interest is thus
Some media have reported claims that
AKU-EB or the government will coerce schools into applying for affiliation with
AKU-EB. However, the Ordinance clearly established AKUEB in order to provide an
option to the current systems in place for schools, educators and students. It
lays down that affiliation to AKU-EB will be entirely voluntary. These points
have been repeatedly stated by the Federal Government.
It has been claimed that AKU itself is
an extraordinarily expensive institution that caters to financially upper class
students and bears a favorable disposition to the Ismaili community. It is
important to recall that an essential attribute of AKU's Charter is its
fundamental concern for providing quality education for all persons regardless
of gender, creed, religion, race, class, colour or domicile. Admission of all
AKU students is based entirely on merit. This is facilitated by the University's
financial assistance policy which ensures that no student admitted on merit is
denied education for inability to pay the fee. Last year AKU provided financial
support to 40% of its student body. It is also noteworthy that as a consequence
of its merit-based admissions policy, far from being Ismaili focused, the
overwhelming majority of the University's students in the Medical College as
well as its faculty members are from non-Ismaili communities. The patients
treated at the Aga Khan University Hospital are also predominantly non-Ismaili,
and some 74 per cent of them are from lower and middle income groups, who
benefit significantly from the generous patient welfare programme. Furthermore,
AKU's governance according to its Charter from the Government of Pakistan is the
responsibility of its 12-member Board of Trustees, a statutory body of diverse
public representation, including from the PMDC, the HEC and the High Court of
Sindh; only three of its members are from the Ismaili community.
Statements have been published in the
print media by some quarters charging that AKU-EB or AKU issued a health
questionnaire targeted at young students. The University categorically denies
this ill-informed allegation. According to the Government, the survey in
question was part of an international initiative by the Global Fund for AIDS,
Tuberculosis and Malaria, a United Nations initiative, which works in close
partnership with WHO. The survey was undertaken by Pakistan's National AIDS
Control Programme, who sought the assistance of seven non-governmental
organisations to conduct it in various parts of the country. At no point,
however, was AKU or, specifically, AKU-EB ever involved in developing or
conducting this survey.
The AKU-EB was created in response to
appeals from schools, students and educationists throughout Pakistan, and after
careful thought and analysis by AKU's Board of Trustees and the encouragement of
the Government. Its sole purpose is to improve the quality of education by
making examinations of reputable standard more accessible to Pakistani students.
Its assessment methods will be based on the evaluation of higher comprehension
capabilities and successful candidates will be increasingly recognized by
leading higher education institutions in and outside the country. The AKU-EB is
a national institution and will follow in all respects, as required by law, the
national curriculum. The governance of AKU, including that of its Examination
Board, is predicated on wide representation from many sectors including the
Government, as well as on transparency and best practices. The Ismaili community
does not determine the policies of the University. The Government intends the
AKU-EB to be a national resource and one which will provide a role model for
other examination boards. AKU has been working, and will continue to work, in
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
Q. Is Aga Khan University Examination
Board (AKU-EB) changing the national curriculum?
AKU-EB is not authorised by the Government of Pakistan to change the national
curriculum. It is one of the 27 examination boards in the country. AKU-EB's
Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC)
examinations, like those of the other examination boards, will be based on the
government-approved national curriculum and syllabi for all subjects, including
Islamiyat and Pakistan Studies. The structure of the SSC examinations, a
composite examination in each subject at the end of grade X is in accordance
with the recommendations of the 8th Inter Provincial Education Ministers'
meeting held on July 25, 2005 at Lahore.
Q. What are the attributes of AKU-EB?
will offer high quality examinations in English and Urdu; conform to
international standards for examinations, such as the Code of Practice that
governs the procedures of all British examination boards; evaluate the higher
intellectual abilities of comprehension, logical thinking and problem solving;
provide secure, valid and reliable assessments of educational achievement; and
serve the purposes of certification of competences for school leavers and
preparation for higher levels of education.
AKU-EB will utilise state-of-the-art
public examination practices. New technology will provide the written answer of
each question separately to several evaluators for marking, thereby ensuring
that the evaluators cannot identify the candidate and enabling correlation of
the marks for consistency. The technology will assist the elimination of bias,
curb dishonest practices, and greatly speed up the processes of verification and
compilation of scores so that the results can be announced in six weeks.
Q. Will AKU-EB, or the Government,
coerce schools into applying for affiliation?
Affiliation of schools with AKU-EB is purely voluntary and no school, public or
private, is under any compulsion in this regard. AKU-EB was established by the
Government of Pakistan in the private sector in order to provide choice for
schools and candidates. AKUEB is affiliating only interested non-government
schools and has so far received inquiries from over 200 schools. These include
'O' and 'A' level schools which will offer SSC for the first time now that there
is an SSC examination which places a proper value on comprehension and
application of knowledge.
Q. Will AKU-EB gradually take over
government education boards?
AKU-EB has no intention of taking over any board nor does it have the capacity
to do so.
The government has also made it clear
on a number of occasions that it has no plans to hand over any examination board
to AKU-EB. In 1998, the government boards served 1.2 million candidates for the
SSC and this number increased at the rate of 2.9% per annum during the following
five years. AKU-EB does not have the capacity to do the work undertaken by the
existing examination boards. The purpose of the AKU-EB is to provide a national
model of high quality examinations at the secondary and higher secondary levels
of education in order to facilitate the improvement of education in schools and
colleges. It will also enable development of capacity for educational assessment
and tests in the country, which will benefit the functioning of the other
examination boards and thus of teachers in all schools.
Q. Is AKU-EB going to 'secularise' the
education system in Pakistan?
Abiding by its Ordinance granted by the Government of Pakistan, AKU-EB will
follow the national curriculum in which Islamiyat and Pakistan Studies are
compulsory subjects. The notion of 'secularisation' is unfounded.
Q. Has USAID created AKU-EB in order to
change the education system of Pakistan?
creation of AKU-EB was in response to a group of schools in Karachi, which
appealed to AKU as far back as 1995 for an alternate examination board that
encouraged the development of reasoning and critical skills rather than rote
learning in its examinations. The Board of Trustees of the University considered
this proposal and approved it formally in 200O, following extensive
consultations with educationists, policy makers and successive government
administrations. Thereafter, on the encouragement of the government of Pakistan,
it applied for recognition of AKU-EB and was granted the same through an
Ordinance in November 2002.
The cost of implementing AKU-EB over
the first five years amounts to Rs.438 million or US$7.3 million. The University
has already allocated Rs.168 million ($2.8 million) from its own resources to
support this initiative. USAID agreed to provide the balance of Rs.270 million
or US$4.5 million, in 2003, under its agreement with the Government of Pakistan
to support the Government's education sector reforms.
Claims of a hidden American agenda
behind this additional funding do not reflect the reality on the ground.
AKU-EB's efforts to make the National Curriculum accessible to teachers are
carried forward by nineteen subject panels numbering 180 teachers, educators and
subject experts. Every single one is a Pakistani national. There is just one
expatriate on the Board's staff, the Director who is ex- Dean of the Faculty of
Education, University of Manchester. He has advised on public examination
development in the UK, Caribbean, China, Mongolia and Vietnam, the Middle East
and throughout English speaking Africa. Finally, the governing body of the Board
has no USAID or any other American representation. AKU-EB is grateful for the
selfless gift of the American people, which comes with no strings attached.
Since the creation of Pakistan and over the past decades, it is well recognised
that AKDN including AKU have worked relentlessly to improve the quality of life
of Pakistanis. They have done this regardless of religion, gender, and economic
standing, relying primarily on the attributes of merit and access for all.
Q. Will AKU-EB cater only to the
As with all AKU related initiatives, access will be provided to all
socio-economic strata of society. AKU-EB is made accessible to individuals with
different income levels through a graduated fee system. The examination fee for
students in schools with tuition tees of less than Rs. 800 is Rs. 1,500 per
candidate and Rs.3,000 in other schools. By comparison, the fee for a reasonably
comprehensive set of subjects at the 'O' level of the British boards is about Rs.
26,000. Moreover, unlike the British boards, AKU-EB will be a national resource
working through the national examination system and established for the benefit
of the country.
Q. Why duplicate the existing
examination board provision?
There is no duplication. The system adopted by public examination boards has
encouraged memorisation and rote learning. The option provided by AKU-EB, on the
other hand, emphasises comprehension and application of knowledge. Although both
systems are based on the national curriculum and offer the same qualification,
the nature of the examinations and the methods of education required to prepare
students for the examinations will be different. Preparation of the students for
the examinations of AKUEB will require re-orientation of teachers and schools to
this modern method which is used by most examinations systems including 'O' and
'A' levels. AKU-EB will be able to analyse the candidates' responses to
questions and pass on what it learns to schools and teachers. This feedback will
facilitate the strengthening of our education system.
Q. Will AKU-EB students gain acceptance
from the wider academic community. Will they get admission in the local
universities like Karachi University?
Yes. By law the certification of students by AKU-EB will be accepted by all
academic institutions. Section 7 of the AKU-EB Ordinance states: "All
certification by the Examination Board shall be evidence of the successful
completion by the holder thereof of the appropriate level of education and shall
be accorded full credit and recognition."
Q. Why did the Government create
examination boards in the private sector?
present the Secondary School Certificates of the public sector examination
boards are neither accepted overseas nor by many Pakistani universities. In
order to make Pakistani education competitive, it is imperative that its school
graduates gain acceptance into reputed universities at home and abroad. The
setting up of AKU-EB and the Askari Board, the other examination board in the
private sector, is thus a logical response by the Government of Pakistan as part
and parcel of addressing quality in the Education Sector Reforms. AKU has a
track record of being a role model in setting high standards in nursing, medical
and teacher education that have been emulated in Pakistan and other Muslim and
developing countries. Consequently, the Government of Pakistan encouraged AKU to
establish an examination board that would act as a role model for others.
Q. Did AKU or AKU-EB design or
distribute a health survey targeted at young students?
Aga Khan University (AKU) and its Examination Board (AKU-EB) were in no way
associated with the distribution, or subsequent retraction, of a controversial
health survey. The University categorically denies this ill-informed allegation.
According to the Government, the survey in question was part of an international
initiative by the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a United
Nations initiative, which works in close partnership with WHO. The survey was
undertaken by Pakistan's National AIDS Control Programme, which sought the
assistance of seven non-governmental organisations to conduct the survey of AIDS
related behaviour in various parts of the country. At no point, however, was AKU
or, specifically, AKU-EB ever involved in developing or conducting this survey.
Q. Will AKU-EB set more difficult
AKU-EB is operating within the national scheme of studies. It would be unfair to
its candidates if their efforts after higher quality of thought were rewarded
with fewer marks, putting them at a disadvantage in the competition for college
places. AKU-EB will monitor the rate of return on effort very closely.
Candidates are being asked to redirect their efforts towards more worthwhile
learning. They will not be penalised thereby and in the longer term it is
expected that their greater understanding will give them a competitive edge. It
is unfortunate that there are no explicit educational standards in Pakistan to
support parity of outcome. Identifying and publishing what candidates know,
understand and can do at each grade in each subject is the motive force for
AKU-EB's adoption of the latest public examining technology, e-marking.
Q. How can AKU-EB claim that its
results will be fairer and less open to corruption than those of the other
AKU-EB is introducing e-marking to Pakistan, indeed the whole of South Asia.
E-marking depends on very high speed scanners. The candidate's written answer
paper is copied into a large computer where it is split up into segments
relating to each question. These segments are then sent out to different desktop
computers. The marker sitting at the screen sees the candidate's handwriting but
no identification of the candidate. The electronic image cannot be tampered
with. The marker assigns a mark for knowledge, an understanding and an
application mark and passes on to the next candidate's answer to the same
question. The marker does not know if what is presented is being marked for the
first, second or third time but by presenting answers for re-evaluation the
chief examiner is able to monitor each marker's work and call a halt if fatigue
sets in. At the end, the computer adds up the marks assigned by several
different markers to the same paper. There are no arithmetic errors and
relatively little risk of an unfair outcome from a tired, depressed or angry
The system is very transparent. A
candidate who feels unfairly treated can ask his/her school to have his script
made available along with its marks. A school will get a blow by blow account of
the strengths and weaknesses of its classes, an essential first step towards
rectifying deficiencies and improving quality. Finally AKU-EB will be able to
see where more thought needs to be given to the teaching syllabus to make it
more accessible to all.