BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – In a long awaited statement, the Ministry of Education (MoE) announced on Monday that written papers for IGCSE, O and A Level examinations would not take place for the October/November session due to the current COVID outbreak.

The exams will be replaced with a system called school-assessed grades (SAG), where teachers would determine students’ final grade based on a portfolio of work.

The move was met with considerable consternation by students and parents, as the announcement was made just 10 days before the first exams were to take place on October 1.

Social media has been rife with speculation for the past few weeks about what would happen with IGCSE, O and A Level exams, which are crucial for students’ entry into college and higher education.

“We need greater transparency from MoE. It has been weeks since the national lockdown has been in place but we have not received any updates from them on what’s going to happen to our children’s exams,” said one parent, Afiqah Hj Kadir.

“Many students have been working hard for the past two years and to have the exams cancelled so close to the finish line seems cruel.”

She added, “Students should be given the option to defer to the May/June session. It’s not ideal, but some students are worried that SAG will bring down their final grade, as there is no standardisation across schools.”

Schools in the UK have used school-assessed grades (SAG) for the past two years in lieu of in-person exams due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it has not been without controversy.

Each school can set their own grading criteria, and the examination body, Cambridge International, also has the power to downgrade students’ marks if they feel schools have inflated grades.

The lack of standardisation may lead to a large number of students challenging the outcome — as they did in the UK — with university admission on the line.

How will SAG work?

For school-assess grades, teachers will identify three substantial pieces of work in each subject to determine a student’s final grade. The types of work are at the school’s discretion and can include any of the following:

  • Complete past papers from the syllabus with a duration of an hour or more
  • Completed coursework prepared according to syllabus requirements
  • Work made up of questions selected from various past papers
  • Papers from qualifying exams
  • Extended project work set by the school during the course of study
  • Tasks set by the school, such as essays, assignments, problems, practical tasks

The grades are then submitted to Cambridge International, who will carry out external quality assurance checks to ensure grades are are fair.

Danish, an O Level student, said he was disappointed that the exam was cancelled, as it was his final chance to bring up his grades.

“In the qualifying exams and classwork, my results weren’t consistent and I’ve been trying to improve on my weak subjects.

“I’ve always struggled with grasping some of the more difficult concepts in maths, and I’ve been doing after-school tuition to improve my marks leading up to the exam,” he said.

“It was my last chance to get the grade I needed to hopefully study engineering one day. I feel really demoralised – I was studying  day and night just in case exams went ahead. Now that I have no opportunity to change my future, I feel like there’s no point in even continuing with at-home learning until the end of the year.”

A government teacher, who only wanted to be identified as Syazwani, said she sympathises with students who have had a hard time with online learning.

“It’s been a challenge for teachers as well – to keep students engaged, to feel like we are constantly on call – it’s inevitable this will have a negative impact on people’s mental health.”

“I understand why we can’t go ahead with exams given the state of COVID-19 in Brunei. It’s not fair to the students, but we have no choice but to make the best of a bad situation.”

Private candidates will have to defer exams to next year

The education ministry said private candidates for IGCSE, O, AS and A Level will have to defer their exams until the May/June 2022 session, as there would be no one to provide an alternative assessment for them.

School-based candidates for AS Level will also have to defer until May/June 2022.

The Ministry of Education gave no update on exams for the Primary School Assessment (Year 6) and Student Progress Examination (Year 8), which determines whether students follow the normal or express track in Upper Secondary.