Missing exam papers: Collaboration with Cambridge 'worth keeping', says Ong Ye Kung

Missing exam papers: Collaboration with Cambridge 'worth keeping', says Ong Ye Kung

The Education Minister responded on Monday (Feb 11) in Parliament to questions from MPs on two recent incidents which saw students’ examination scripts go missing in the United Kingdom.

file photo of exam paper
File photo of a student taking an exam. (Photo: CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Education (MOE) will continue to send exam papers to Cambridge Assessment in the United Kingdom for marking while mitigating the risk of losing scripts, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament on Monday (Feb 11).

MOE's collaboration with Cambridge Assessment in developing and marking national examinations like the GCE N, O and A-Levels is one that is "worth keeping", he stressed in answer to queries from Members of Parliament on two incidents where exam scripts went missing in the UK.

“We are in a good position to harness resources to mark the papers and set the questions,” he said. “But I think we are where we are too because of a certain earnestness to learn from different systems around the world, and to work with different credible, reputable systems around the world.”

He added that working with Cambridge Assessment has been part of this approach.

“Cambridge has helped raise us to this level of international reputation,” he said. “This is a collaboration that I think is still worthwhile keeping, while mitigating the risk of lost scripts.”

READ: 32 O-Level Additional Mathematics exam scripts from Singapore lost in UK

Last month, the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) announced that part of the O-Level Additional Mathematics exam scripts of 32 students went missing in the United Kingdom. A Cambridge examiner’s bag containing the answer scripts was mistakenly taken by another passenger on a train from London to the north of England.

Singapore O-Level exam scripts lost: timeline infographic

In February last year, 238 GCE A-Level students had part of their H2 Chemistry answer scripts stolen from a courier company van. The incident happened while the papers were in transit from Cambridge Assessment's office to the examiner for marking. 

In a supplementary question, MP Intan Azura Mokhtar said that while marking papers in Singapore will require a lot of markers and teachers, she thinks Singapore does have the capability.

"Wouldn’t it be easier to fly in some of the markers and auditors from Cambridge to audit the marking, rather than leaving our papers overseas where our exam papers have been taken aboard trains?" she asked.

“When we do marking here ... even the PSLE papers ... our papers are not removed from the marking centres at all.”

READ: Stolen A-Level scripts: 75 of 238 affected students will re-sit Chemistry Paper 3

Mr Ong noted that Cambridge Assessment taps on about 2,200 professors and experienced educators from universities and higher institutions to mark the scripts.

Of the 1.1 million answer scripts generated every year in the GCE-Level examinations, 800,000 are marked by Cambridge Assessment while the remainder are marked locally.

"If we were to mark all the scripts locally, it requires a very substantial amount of highly qualified resources," he said. "As these are required during the school vacation period, we need to be mindful about the workload and well-being of our teachers if all subjects are to be marked locally."

Over the years, Cambridge Assessment has also taken their role “very professionally and seriously”, he said.

The examiner concerned in the recent incident involving the O-Level Additional Mathematics scripts will not be engaged to mark scripts in the future, he said.

"This collaboration between MOE and Cambridge Assessment continues to be useful and necessary," he added.


MPs also asked about the possibility of students taking their national exams electronically, or having their answer scripts marked electronically.

In his response, Mr Ong noted that Singapore's approach is to use e-examinations when there is “clear benefit” over paper-based tests.

For example, SEAB has already implemented e-oral exams across all levels for mother tongue language subjects. This, he said, will be extended to N-Level English in 2019, and O-Level English in 2020.

Computer-based writing examinations have also been introduced as a pilot for some O- and A-Level mother tongue and literature exams. So far, the feedback has been positive as candidates found the e-examination more "engaging and authentic", he said.

READ: SEAB studying option of scanning, marking answer scripts electronically

But Mr Ong also stressed the importance of taking into account the readiness of schools and students, pointing out that Singapore is still "some time away" from a future where written examinations can be administered on screen.

"More importantly and notwithstanding the high computer penetration rate amongst our population, we should not inadvertently disadvantage students who may not be exposed to computers as much as others," he said.

“Ideally, e-examinations need to be aligned to schools’ use of technology in teaching and learning.”

He added that SEAB and Cambridge Assessment have also been working on a move – planned since 2015 – to move the marking of hard-copy GCE-Level answer scripts to on-screen marking in the UK.

Close to 65 per cent of scripts are now marked on-screen. By the end of this year, he said, MOE is “on track” to mark almost all of GCE-Level written scripts on-screen.

From 2020, locally developed examination papers, for subjects in mother tongue languages, will be marked on-screen and more local papers will be included over the next few years, he added.

However, Mr Ong also emphasised that every system has risks.

"Going electronic will eliminate the risk of lost scripts but new risks associated with electronic data will surface,” he said. “So whatever system we adopt in future, we need to study the pros and cons carefully, proceed methodically, identify and ensure that risks are managed and mitigated to the greatest extent possible."

Source: CNA/lc(hm)