The z-score debacle

Friday, 29 June 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The z-score has become the centre-point for one of Sri Lanka’s greatest controversies. This has been made all the more poignant as the future of thousands of students rests on this crucial issue and the public are still awaiting a credible solution from authorities. 

The Supreme Court verdict to recalculate the z-score together with an unprecedented hike in re-correction applications highlights the uncertainly that still grips most students and their parents. The Advanced Level is perhaps the toughest and most crucially competitive exams that students face in Sri Lanka due to the limited number of spots available at public universities. 

In 2011, out of around 245,000 students, only 21,000 students will make it into university. This monumental gap has created untold pressure and completion among A/L students. Unfortunately, incompetence of public officials has worsened this already tense situation, with many students not knowing for months on end whether they really have gained coveted entrance into university. 

The Education Minister and the Higher Education Minister have been passing the buck to each other and if they had worked amicably, could have perhaps solved this impasse before a concerned party took the matter to the Supreme Court. The inability of the authorities to think of the welfare of the students has resulted in them having to wait for a year for the Supreme Court verdict and perhaps longer for the clarification sought by the University Grants Commission (UGC). 

All this means that the students are still uncertain of their future and while others of the same age are starting university, they are condemned to pass the most productive time of their life waiting for the authorities to get their act together. Failure of institutions in this instance is unpardonable and the repeated refusal of the respective ministers to take responsibility for the situation created is another example of the irresponsible actions of top public officials. 

Ministers who have been appointed to protect the rights and opportunities of students have instead become the abusers of the system. A year has slipped by with excuses and recriminations exchanged between the ministers and unions, leading to another batch of Advanced Level students sitting for the exam in another month. 

If the Government is sincere about its intentions to do right by these students, they have to ensure that the z-scores are calculated in a transparent and consistent manner or the same set of problems will befall thousands of students next year as well. The importance of preventing a repeat incident cannot be overstressed as students, teachers and parents will be watchful of any indiscretions in the z-score calculations this time around. 

With such high stakes the Government needs to do better than “wishing,” which was the response by Cabinet Spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella when the issue was raised by journalists at a recent media briefing. Wishing is what the students are doing now, hoping against hope that their future will not be blighted by a changed decimal point. The Government is way past wishing for competence and if it does not take action, then the people might start wishing for change.