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LAHORE: Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) Chief Executive Michael O’Sullivan has said students and their parents are becoming obsessed with higher grades in examinations and called for limiting this tendency, saying it has negative side effects.

O’Sullivan said teachers were also excessively focused on training students to score higher grades and eventually compelled them to spend more time in classrooms.

“This is not an ideal learning experience,” he added. He observed that students studying for longer hours would be missing physical as well as cultural activities, which was highly undesirable.

The CIE chief executive is currently visiting Pakistan and was speaking to Dawn after the Cambridge Schools Conference on ‘Building a curriculum that equips learners for the future’ on Tuesday. Representatives from 134 schools offering Cambridge education across Pakistan attended the conference.

He said the CIE could limit the tendency of grades obsession by designing and constantly improving examinations so they could develop thinking skills as well as ability to analyse and apply knowledge.

Responding to a question whether there was a minimum age for appearing in Cambridge examinations with reference to a nine-year-old boy who recently scored top grades, O’Sullivan said the CIE did not encourage students to earn grades in an unusual age bracket.

With reference to supporting Pakistan to improve its local examination systems, O’Sullivan said the CIE had started discussions with the Punjab government as to how it could contribute in improving public sector education with particular reference to examinations.

“We are already committed to providing training to key officials in the examination boards. My colleagues will be having further discussion with the Punjab government officials this week,” he added.

The official said the CIE was also engaged in initial discussions with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government officials and exploring ideas for holding large scale examinations.

Regarding keeping pace with the changing world and modern technology, the CIE chief agreed technology would completely change education and assessment systems in examinations.

“Our prediction is that within about next 20 years, it will be unusual to take any examination with paper and pen,” he said and added the CIE would continue to recognise that any change should happen when schools and societies would be ready to adopt the change.

Answering a question about curriculum development, O’Sullivan said the CIE was doing it in partnership with the schools offering Cambridge qualifications.

Answering a question about hue and cry in Punjab about a chapter in a biology textbook on explicit intercourse, O’Sullivan said: “We are living in a diverse world and we need to be sensitive to different cultural values and perceptions that are suitable.” Though the CIE was mainly offering a mix of international qualifications, he said, it was also developing curriculum and examinations for particular countries and identified it developed curriculum and O’ Level examinations in Islamiat and Pakistan Studies for Pakistani students.

O’Sullivan further said the CIE officials including their colleagues in Pakistan were constantly in touch with Cambridge schools representatives and listening to their suggestions and recommendations for improvement in curriculum and examinations. He said CIE trainers were also regularly visiting Pakistan and training local teachers besides extensive online training. “Later this year, we will be making a significant change by establishing a local training team that will be going to schools and offering teachers training,” he added.

Answering a question about apprehending culprits who leaked the O’ Level Islamiat and Pakistan Studies papers, O’Sullivan did not identify those responsible owing to legal concerns, but said the incident gave a good understanding to the CIE to improve its examination security.