New local app promises regular, effective assessments of students

COMMENT

The South African education system needs to ramp up efforts in implementing a continuous assessment education model for both school and tertiary students. Despite the guidance of excellent curricula, assessment guidelines and the best of intentions, it’s still not enough. It’s high time the tech nay-says get on board with the solutions designed to address our most pressing education crisis. 

Continuous assessment as a learning methodology is celebrated worldwide for enabling students to constantly engage with their learning material and be tested on every aspect of the work as opposed to being tested once or twice a year. 

It is the approach that the National Curric­ulum and Assessment Policy Statement drives for grades R to 12, as it forms the foundation for their future studies. 

Continuous assessment is far more effective from a learning perspective and the students walk away with better overall knowledge and critical understanding of the subject at hand. 

The theory is sound, but the reality is quite different in a country with so many under-resourced and overcrowded schools. Some of the larger and better funded schools are able to successfully assess students on a continuous basis, but what is the solution for the rest? We cannot allow students to be left behind. 

Because of our history and socioeconomic problems, funding and resources in schooling will remain an issue for decades to come. To encourage under-resourced institutions to use continuous assessment is a contentious issue, because the cost of having in-venue assessments and invigilators is high — and therefore can only happen occasionally. 

But, with the move to technology, assignments, projects, short tests and quizzes can now be conducted on a weekly basis under exam conditions. 

Continuous assessment was only made feasible with the introduction of technology. Internationally, schools and institutions use proctoring solutions that enable them to assess students as much as they wish to. 

It’s an effective solution because it removes the need for in-venue testing — students are assessed remotely, but the academic integrity remains intact because cheating or colluding is mitigated by the proctoring systems. 

These international proctoring systems were not developed with emerging countries in mind. Aside from being unaffordable for our institutions (at $30 a student for each assessment), they also require access to the latest technology and consistent internet access, which a huge proportion of South Africans do not have. 

This is what led to the creation of a South African solution, The Invigilator App, which was created with these challenges in mind and is now being successfully used by some of South Africa’s largest tertiary institutions. 

Online education is booming, which will only benefit our future economy. The online schools making use of proctoring systems to continuously assess students are successfully producing critical thinkers who will easily slot into life after education in an increasingly digitised world. 

They’re moving away from parrot-learning techniques and are asking students to apply theories in a practical manner. 

Making use of technology that is appropriate for the challenges of South Africa, such as irregular access to electricity and soaring data costs, is the only way we can ensure that a large proportion of our students do not get left behind academically. 

Continuous assessment should not only be for the privileged. Using this technology, schools and universities will have the technology available to support the move to continuous assessment and engagement with learning material. 

If exams are not invigilated, the credibility of those qualifications will be questioned, particularly by the workforce, which will affect future employability. 

There have been numerous reports of unethical behaviour during Covid-19, but technology built by local academics now ensures exam conditions are being abided by. 

The move to online makes education accessible to all, but the right technology must be used to ensure exam integrity is maintained. Technology is helping universities move fully online permanently, not just for Covid-19. This means universities are no longer constrained by space limitations and can accept more students into their programmes. 

Being able to accept more students as well as reducing fixed costs such as hiring venues, printing, physical invigilators and logistics will result in education becoming more affordable and accessible.

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Nicholas Riemer
Nicholas Riemer, 32, is the co-founder and chief executive of The Invigilator App, recently the top downloaded education app in South Africa. Nicholas is currently a finalist for The South African Institute of Chartered Accounting’s Top-35-under-35 award. Riemer attended the University of Johannesburg (UJ) where he qualified as a chartered accountant. He spent a year doing academic articles at UJ, and this is where his passion for education developed. He continues to guest lecture for the University of Johannesburg, Monash as well as for the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants.

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