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Equivalency: Apples and oranges

July 15, 2012


Summer vacation is by far the best time of the year that students and teachers look forward to. But for some this may also be a time of stress when awaited results, preparing for admission tests or planning for further studies. It is that time of the year when students are applying to universities — application forms are being filled, fees for admission tests are being paid and the dates are being scheduled. The anticipation about results will live on until the day the they are announced.

Students on completing grade 12, start working on building an extraordinary profile to help them get admission into top-notch colleges and universities. However, for some students, the challenge does not lie so much in preparing for the aptitude test but rather in getting their qualifications assessed for certain courses such as that of medicine and engineering. Equivalency here is least of the problems because there are multiple boards of education running concurrently in Pakistan, each of them following different syllabuses and education standards.

Karachi alone has four boards of education causing much grief to the students who are asked to submit the equivalency, particularly, if they are applying for a medical or engineering programme at the local level. This equivalency of qualifications is carried out by the Inter Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC), which is run under the resolution passed by the Ministry of Education.

So first we have the Provincial Board of Sindh, then the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (FBISE), the recently introduced Aga Khan University Education Board (AKU-EB) and finally, the much hyped British Education System of O’ and A’ Levels, which fall under two boards of their own: Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) and the Edexcel International Board. Excluding AKU-EB due to their strict curriculum and transparency, the common argument found is that of existing biases and perception of superiority between the local education system and British education system.

Over the last few years, the hot debate about equivalencies has caused a fret and an uneasy vibe among students that follow the British education system. Many colleges and universities require equivalencies for O’ and A’ Levels, which is an alarming concern for all the stakeholders involved — students, parents, teachers and schools. Unfortunately, the dissimilar nature of acceptability standards within the broad-based field of education can only be found in Pakistan, and particularly when applying to the public sector colleges and universities.

Most, if not all, private sector colleges and universities accept O’ and A’ Level transcripts and certificates for admission into any programme of study as do the international post-secondary institutions. Yet students applying to public sector institutions face the hard reality and learn first-hand what it means to be ‘unequal’.

Let’s analyse the rules and conversion of O’ and A’ Level grades into HSSC equivalent marks. The two tables are IBCC’s breakdown of CIE marks when converted into Pakistani Marks at the Intermediate level.

Although, the grade (A*) has the same percentage weightings as CIE and IBCC’s conversion, the calculation method shown on the IBCC website is rather tricky. Here is a simpler method for anyone and everyone to check what their overall grade would be if and when evaluated by the IBCC. Add the above Pakistani marks for the respective grades that the student achieved in his or her O’ and A’ Level exams and divide it by 1,100 (maximum marks) for the 11 subjects (eight for O’ Level and three for A’ Level).

The same rule applies if the student only wishes to calculate for O’ Level equivalency. Add the above Pakistani marks for the respective grades that the student achieved in their O’ Level and divide it by 800 (maximum marks) for the eight subjects. IBCC’s evaluation criteria based on the grades is only five per cent off but students complain because they lose merit. When a student achieves 89 per cent as an ‘A’ grade in the CIE, the IBCC awards the same grade but as 85 per cent, which would be the lowest in its range. For example, an O’ Level student with three ‘A’ grades and five ‘B’ grades at higher percentage under the CIE received 78.77 per cent as her overall percentage by the IBBC. In order for her to make it to a medical college in Lahore, she had to get the equivalency because the college fell under the public sector. To make matters worse, students who experience this grief also take the aptitude tests prepared from subjects under the Federal Board of Education instead of following internationally-approved topics or subject areas, which are followed by private sector colleges and universities such as AKU, LUMS, GIK and more. With the evaluation criteria of IBCC, students under the British education system end up losing marks for every course that they have undertake in O’ and A’ Levels.

The question then is why and when do students have to apply for equivalency, and whether they can do without it? The answer to this question is rather simple. They must submit an equivalency when applying to medical or engineering colleges or universities in the public sector only.

We must not forget that as our population is growing, competition is getting fiercer, too. If students are ending up losing a year or two because of the equivalencies and the lack of planning, we are setting them up for failure. The root cause of this entire equivalency issue rests on the sole premise of providing adequate guidance to students, which must be provided when they are studying in grade eight. Parents should also take an initiative by participating and addressing their concerns instead of depending entirely on the school administration or paying extensive fees to schools and private tuitions to do away with their responsibility. Furthermore, it is imperative for school administrations and the tuition academies to be loyal to the profession and take interest in the wellbeing of the students.

We all know that Pakistani students have everything they need to succeed and achieve high goals in life including academic and technical knowledge, creative and innovative ideas, passion, zeal and dedication. The only missing ingredient is proper guidance to be provided in a timely manner by both the school and parents. With this it is hoped that the country someday will have an unbiased education system with a common objective — imparting quality education for a prosperous Pakistan.

The writer is a career counselor and lecturer at Bahria College as well as teaching assistant in Management at Greenwich University, Karachi.