Plans to type the HSC dropped – should trigger a complete re-think

typing-300x225Those of us holding on to the vain hope that one day the HSC would be a typed exam can stop holding on – it’s not going to happen in any foreseeable future.

The NSW Board of Studies has long had a plan to use computers in the HSC. In 2009 the acting chief executive said it was ”inevitable computers will be used in HSC exams”. As time went by, and as the 2012 target year faded into history, that inevitability started looking decidedly dodgy.

And now the official position is reported as being that “BOSTES does not have any current plans to introduce online testing for the HSC”. The reasons have nothing to do with education, skills, or modern approaches all of which argue for a typed exam. There’s not even a reason centered on the old bugbear of equity in that all the students would have to learn to type – which is in my view one of the main reasons to do this in the first place. No it’s all logistics.

Getting 70,000 students connected to a secure network, etc is apparently beyond the wit of man. Making sure they can’t access external materials can’t be done. Oh, and all those people typing is noisy.

All of the logistical problems could be addressed if there was a will to do so. But the core of the problem is that what the Board of Studies seems to be targeting is simply taking the existing HSC and having it typed. What they ought to be considering is if the existing HSC is really equipping students with the right skills and testing them on the right things.

Having the HSC typed should not be just about another medium of getting a bunch of stuff down on paper. It’s an opportunity to re-think the entire approach to testing. Maybe, and I’m just tossing this out there, we should not be forcing students to memorise huge screeds of text when in the real world we can refer to other sources. Maybe rather than preventing students from using external sources that’s the part of the skill-set we ought to be testing. Maybe the tests ought to be more about using information than the capacity to memorise it.

Right now a big part of the HSC, in compulsory English at least, involves memorising existing essays and then writing them down as fast as possible. Once the HSC is done you will never again have to memorise such a weight of stuff and you will certainly never again have to handwrite that many words under pressure. And, by the way, memorising huge chunks of essays and regurgitating them on paper is just analog copying-and-pasting when you think about it.

The real-world skills we need to be promoting include the capacity to research, to synthesise information, and to solve problems with what you find. Testing that ought to require access to external materials. And, if done properly, testing should require novelty and so not be amenable to wholesale copying-and-pasting.

Look, I think the HSC should be able to be typed even in the existing context. But the sad thing is that not typing the HSC is even more important as a signal of a lack of thinking about the changing nature of what our education system should be achieving.

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