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Cambridge versus intermediate education system

Published on 11th Feb, Edition 07, 2013


When it comes to primary education, a student in Pakistan has the option either to pursue the local education system, which includes Matric followed by Intermediate or pursue the British education system through O Levels and A Levels. The Cambridge system is usually left for those who can afford the fees structure whereas Matric and Intermediate can be done at fraction of a cost. Post completion of Intermediate or A Levels, students prepare themselves either to tackle university admissions locally or give SAT, Toefl and IELTS exams for admissions abroad. There are advantages and disadvantages for pursuing each of the systems.

The Cambridge system is followed in Africa, Middle East, Asia, Europe and East Asia including India and Australia to an extent where students are tested on global standards with exam format similar to all. Students study through a defined curriculum through books generally taught by teachers who have years of experience teaching within the Cambridge system. The exams globally are conducted on a similar date. Results are announced based on grade the student achieved in the exam. Those who acquire a distinction are celebrated globally and announced through media and Internet. The system encourages students to read, focus on depth of knowledge and appear in the exam based on conceptual knowledge rather than being reliant on memorisation. Students are taught primarily in English, which helps them gain fluency in speech by the time they are doing with schooling. The exam format teaches students to be concise and answer in the question in crisp and precise way. As the prime mode of education is based on curriculum which is revised timely based on global developments, students within the Cambridge system are groomed to take on new challenges and find it relatively easier to score well in admissions exams or study SAT, Toefl or IELTS.

In contrast to Cambridge, our local education system is such where students are tested, not on conceptual knowledge they can drive out of the curriculum or depth of knowledge rather how well they can memorize concepts and recreate the course memorized on exam day. Notes for each subject are readily available. Students are taught by teachers and various tuition centres how to decorate the examination booklet through the use of markers and highlighters to help score marks. Learning is highly compromised as students study not to gain knowledge but to score high in exams through memorization. The subjects taught to date have not been revised in two to three decades, which is a loss. There has never been any initiative to bring our local matric and intermediate system at par with Cambridge. If we take India as an example, the local education system, books taught and the overall curriculum is at par with the Cambridge system. Students in India do not see the Cambridge system anything over and above their own local system.

The question stands, why does the Matric and Intermediate system foster memorization over conceptual and depth of knowledge?. Why is it that students after passing intermediate exams themselves declare that they have not learned anything that they would have if the system promoted learning?. The answer to these questions reside in the mode through which students gain admissions in universities. In almost all government-run universities, admissions are given primarily on the basis of grades in matric and intermediate. Therefore, if we take, Karachi University, NED, University of Punjab to name a few, the higher the grade in Intermediate, the better the chance to secure admissions. The matric and intermediate system has now evolved as such where students study a month or two before exams through notes readily available and try to recreate the text to the maximum possible. In contract, A Levels is tough and always pose a challenge for students to obtain respectable grades. Student of O Levels and A Levels who get few A’s and average B’s and C’s see themselves competing against students with Intermediate for admissions. Coupled with a quota system for Cambridge, these students are sidelined when it comes to admission in government-based universities. Government universities admissions are not based on quality student intake, those who can become future business leaders and compete at every level. Merit primarily means grades whereas other factors which includes grooming, poise, posture etc is not considered as interviews are not conducted. The way to explain this is through an example. There are MBAs and there are competent MBAs. Those who are simply MBAs would struggle to find a career-oriented job and would always be under financial struggle. Competent MBAs would find bright careers with above market compensation. If university admissions, as witnessed in few mainstream private universities are based on stringent aptitude test following by group discussions and interviews, real talent would shine through and be deserving enough to pursue a degree. These are few distinct advantages where universities like IBA, LUMS, GIK, AKUH have excelled in quality student intake.

The construction of a house or a building is dependent on its foundation. A strong foundation would ensure the building is erected as planned. The matric and intermediate system needs to be brought at par with Cambridge so that students can be groomed and have the capacity to compete at every level domestically and internationally. There is always an argument that books used in the Cambridge system are virtually unaffordable for the poor. Books can be designed under the Educational Ministry revising the current curriculum, which is at par with books available to Cambridge students. The exam format should promote brief and concise answers with MCQs rather than a system where pages and pages are filled to secure marks. A subject should be introduced across the board where students are taught English vocabulary, grammar, public speaking skills and encouraged to appear for SAT, GMAT or GRE independent of admissions to help test their intellectual ability. If Indian and Chinese students are known to be position holders in European, American, Australian and British Universities, its high time that Pakistani students also compete internationally which starts with strong foundation of learning and knowledge through schooling.

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