How can digital assessment tackle inclusion and provide quality education for all?
The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on education systems across the globe. A small number of countries were able to capitalise on their strong position, having already started their move towards digital assessment through programmes or pilot schemes. In these circumstances, digital technology proved to be a great leveller, putting all learners on an equal footing. Other countries, which relied mostly on paper-based approaches for assessment, found it harder to switch to assessment technology during the pandemic and resorted to other models, such as teacher-assessed grading. For these countries, the global shift towards digital technology in education widened the divide between pupils’ attainment, making it harder for some students to succeed.
Earlier this year, we conducted a study that investigated the international digital assessment landscape, specifically looking at how attitudes towards the adoption of digital technologies has changed as we return to a post-pandemic world.
Digital assessment: does it divide or conquer?
In the research, digital infrastructure and inequality issues were seen as the main barriers to digital assessment adoption. All interviewees mentioned insufficient internet connectivity, lack of devices and socioeconomic inequality as issues slowing down the adoption of digital assessment in their market. These are real issues, all around the world, and they are certainly not going to be easily overcome. However, technology must start somewhere.
A great example of innovative thinking with education technology comes from Sierra Leone, where David Moinina Sengeh, Education Minister and Chief Innovation Officer for the government, believes that we must:
“...expand people’s sense of possibilities as opposed to starting in a place of limitation. [For example] – paper is technology, paper is the oldest form of technology in our classrooms. And if you agree that paper is the technology, you agree that radio is technology, you agree that then mobile and online are technology [and that’s where the conversation changes.]”
As the industry works together towards change, specific challenges must be addressed and overcome. Our webinar in July explored how some organisations around the world are implementing technology to improve educational outcomes, in the context of key challenges including COVID, inclusion and equity.
COVID as a catalyst for change?
Disruption from the pandemic has been felt globally but impact varies between nations, industries and individuals. In education, the loss of face-to-face interaction with teachers and knock-on effect on learning has altered the appearance of education going forwards. To provide a level of continuity in education during the pandemic, many adopted technological solutions to move their learning and assessments online.
For some without reliable access to infrastructure and devices, this created a divide and contributed to inequity as their learning was put on pause while others’ progressed online. For instance, those who rely heavily on centrally administered exams struggled as they were more susceptible to the impact of exam cancellations from the pandemic. Our joint research paper with the IAEA found that overall there is a growing desire for digital assessment, and as this grows, the infrastructure and means to facilitate its smooth adoption will need to also. Moving assessment online could also mitigate risk against future global events and ensure the continuation and quality of educational opportunities.
For others, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for change. It has challenged traditional practices and enabled the vision to create new solutions in response to longstanding challenges such as security issues with exam delivery. By prompting organisations to think outside the box for assessment, many acknowledge the opportunity digital brings to improve, build resilience and efficiency, all the while having assessments that are fit for purpose. Alignment of assessments and working life in the digital age is increasingly important as whether vocational or professional, a significant number of day-to-day tasks revolve around being able to use IT. By delivering assessments on-screen, there is a greater transferability of skills into the digital world candidates live and work in.
Inclusivity and equity in digital assessment
A key driver in assessment stems from wanting every student to get the outcome they deserve. Effective assessment practices can be significant in achieving this and ensuring individuals are treated fairly. Within paper-based systems, it is difficult to get comparable results between cohorts and therefore to get consistency of assessment across a whole population. Further to this, there is concern over marking quality as this can be onerous and expensive to manage in a paper-based system. This leads to difficulty in ensuring administrative errors are reduced so that every student gets the outcome they deserve.
On-screen marking is an accessible way of seeing significant improvements to fairness in assessment systems and addressing the challenges mentioned. The candidate is anonymous so there is reduced chance for discrimination and bias, the marks are calculated automatically which reduces margin for human error and once the tests are scanned, these are securely stored electronically – reducing the chance for papers to be lost. Furthermore, on-screen marking allows for anomaly markers to be identified and work reprocessed more quickly, thereby monitoring quality more efficiently. In this way, on screen marking can solve logistical challenges, and reduce security and operational risk; cementing confidence and credibility in the assessment system and qualifications achieved.
In addition, on-screen testing can help to combat issues around digital assessment and inclusivity. Candidates are able to choose how work is displayed to them, such as the colour used, font size, audio use, in order to make the processing of questions easier. Also, special accommodations can be provided to students without them requiring a separate setup to everyone else; contributing to equity in assessment.
We are constantly seeing new approaches to assessment from around the world in response to emerging themes. Currently, this includes using digital to unlock and tailor the ways in which you can assess, thereby creating scalable assessments for those with Special Educational Needs. Also, our previous blog explores the prevalence of exam malpractice and how digital can be used to facilitate but also detect and discourage incidents of malpractice.
In nearly half a century of working in education technology alongside different organisations with varying needs and challenges, all at RM undoubtedly share one underlying goal: improving the quality of educational outcomes.
Get in touch today about the challenges that your organisation is facing.