Written by Martha Van Devender
As a credential evaluator, I was trained to be sensitive to social and political forces that may affect education. We know that all sorts of issues, from natural disasters to wars, can have ramifications on schools and schooling. I’m sure we can all come up with pertinent examples from our work, but I keep thinking about Lebanon. Throughout the Lebanese civil war, the Baccalauréat exams were often postponed or not given at all. It was an issue that had to be addressed in real time in Lebanon. Can you have a starting class of university students without national secondary exams? What metrics do you use to compare students without national exam scores? How do you compare students who were able to take the exam with those who were not?My husband is a graduate student, pursuing a PhD degree in rehabilitation sciences at the University of Utah. He and his classmates are struggling to find ways to finish their degree programs, or even just the term. Classes have moved online. Projects are on hold and dissertation defenses are shifting to a virtual setting. They were discussing their options recently and one of them mentioned the grading choices that were now available. For each registered course, students can opt to receive a normal letter grade or they can take the courses as credit/no-credit for this term. While I felt for their struggle, this was actually the first glimmer of hope for me.
I will be honest; I have not dealt with many secondary documents from the late 1970’s and the 1980’s from Lebanon. But they also have a more recent example that I find illustrative, mostly because I was able to research it in real time. In 2014, there was a major teacher strike. In Lebanon, as soon as the school year ends, teachers are then responsible for helping grade the national exams. So they timed their strike to start once students had already taken the exams for the year. Without the teachers, the ministry was in a tough position. There was no way to score the exams. In fact, since the first part of scoring was seeing who actually took the exam, there was no way to know who even showed up on exam day. But, due to the erratic history of exams during the civil war, they did have experience on how to move past the issue in 2014. The ministry ended up issuing official authorization certificates to each student who had been registered for the 2014 exams. They stated that the student was legally allowed to attend university in Lebanon. Essentially, the ministry decreed that the 2014 students had the same rights as students from other years who actually earned the General Secondary Education Certificate.
As credential evaluators, we all have our internal guidelines and policies to follow when we do an evaluation. I don’t know how others in the field deal with missing exams in 1987 or ministerial authorization certificates in 2014 in Lebanon. But educational systems are fluid and we have institutional methods of dealing with change over time. And we have seen dramatic changes in education around the world due to the threat of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. Some of the changes are happening at a national level, with schools closing in unison. In other cases, like here in the United States, the changes are happening at state or local levels. And every school will have their own ways to address these changes. This is where my hope comes from. Even though we all face the unknown, be that personally, professionally, or existentially, we are experts who have been trained to research change and to find understanding in the unknown.
Here are some things to keep in mind as we look towards the future and the types of research we will need to do. It goes beyond knowing that all Italian universities are currently closed, so there is no one on campus to issue an official transcript. We will have to look at each country individually and see if there are national policies or new laws that impact education. The solution in 2014 in Lebanon was enshrined in law and many of the accommodations we are going to see will be as well. And we will have to look at each individual institution to see what they have done in response. There will be changes to grading, like I’ve seen at the University of Utah. And school calendars will be affected, so we will have to know if students are expected to make up time later or if school years are going to shift. This will look different in parts of the world where the school year starts in August or September and ends in the next month or two compared to places where the school year normally begins in March. Places with trimesters or quarters may have less of an overall interruption than places with semester terms.
Areas where there are national matriculation exams may have to delay or cancel exams. China has already moved the Gaokao exams to July, but we won’t know until later how that could impact the start of the 2020-2021 school year there. The May/June sessions of the various UK external secondary exams (GCSE and GCE O/AS/A Levels) have been cancelled, but we will need to look to each individual examining board to see what that means for their students. WAEC has cancelled the 2020 WASSCE school candidate exams, which were supposed to start today (April 6, 2020). They are hoping to reschedule, but WAEC operates in five countries and coordination is always a challenge. Besides, many African countries are only starting to face the pandemic and are at a different point in the disease progression than other regions. We will have to wait and see what happens with these students.
In the absence of benchmarks (if national exams are not rescheduled, for example), admission policies for the next tier of education may be altered. We need to understand that students this year may be treated differently than students in the same country from last year. We may have to do the same in our evaluations. In each country and each educational system, people are working to address these issues and plan the next steps. We won’t be able to interpret their decisions until they start to affect the educational documents we analyze. But we can read about the impacts to education worldwide and feel confident that international credential evaluators have a role to play in interpreting and understanding the myriad issues and changes facing global education right now. Our skills and international knowledge base are perfectly aligned to help make sense of one aspect (education) of the global challenges we all face under the threat of coronavirus. We will have the opportunity to help our schools and other educational institutions overcome the challenges they face. We have a role to play and that gives me hope.
|Martha Van Devender is a senior evaluator at ECE with nearly 15 years of credential evaluation experience. She has been a member of TAICEP from the early days and is currently serving as chair of the TAICEP Certificate Committee.|
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