How a Dubai school prepares to re-open
After other UK boards, Cambridge IGCSE, A-Levels now also ‘cancelled’ in UAE. PHoto for illustrative purpose only Image Credit: Gulf News archive

Dubai: UAE-based schools are well prepared to award “fair” final grades for students not sitting UK and IB board exams this year, educators said, now that Cambridge International has repotedly also cancelled its exams in the UAE

On Tuesday, Tes (Times Education Supplement) said on its website that Cambridge International, which is one amongst other main UK boards, “confirmed the news in a statement sent to Tes”. The statement reads: “Following a directive from the Ministry of Education in the UAE, cancelling all international exams, we will work with schools to ensure students entered for the June 2021 exam series can still receive grades using teacher assessment.”

It follows last week’s announcement by the Ministry of Education that such UK and IB schools can use “alternative assessment methods” for the current academic year. The announcement came against the backdrop “changing circumstances” – with IGCSE and A-Level exams already being cancelled by most UK boards for the June series.

The IB (International Baccalaureate) meanwhile is offering a “dual route” for the May exam session, meaning written exams will be held where possible. Otherwise, a combination of internal assessment coursework and teacher-predicted grades would be followed, where written exams are not possible.

Earlier concerns

Earlier this year, when UK boards announced exams were cancelled in the UK, students in the UAE were concerned they would be disadvantaged to sit the exams while their counterparts in the UK did not have to do the same.

‘Level playing field’

Kelvin Hornsby

This is no longer the case, with the ministry’s announcement delivering “a level playing field for all students studying in the British system”, said Kelvin Hornsby, CEO and principal of GEMS Cambridge International School, Abu Dhabi. He is also vice president for education and Cambridge Brand Leader at GEMS Education, the UAE’s biggest school group.

‘Accurate grades’

Hornsby said: “The UK and most of the international awarding bodies for IGCSEs and A-Levels had already made the decision to cancel examinations by early February and move to teacher-assessed grades. This was in line with last summer, and schools and teachers have developed considerable expertise in awarding accurate grades that students deserve. With many students studying a mixture of UK and international syllabus qualifications, we now have a fair system for all students with all IGCSE and A-level summer examinations now being cancelled in the UAE.”

Moving to school-based grades

Soraya Beheshti

Another educationist, Soraya Beheshti, Regional Director-MEA, Crimson Education, said schools will be able to provide evidence for the final grades they award in lieu of the board exams. She added: “While each board differs slightly, there are a few key components that will ensure fair results. The internal assessments alluded to in the ministry’s announcement are a key component. Generally, the assessment happens on a school-level; schools that invest more in working with the exam boards to ensure the rigor and credibility of their internal tests will fare better.”

Beheshti said teachers must assess students’ performance on specific projects, coursework and content, and are encouraged to draw on evidence of performance throughout the duration of the academic year to inform their judgement, rather than a short period of time. She added that heads of schools will be required to confirm that students have been taught sufficient content to allow progression to the next stage of their education through continuous cooperation with the boards and the ministry.

Minimising ‘subjectivity’

“There is still some subjectivity in the process but these measures clearly demonstrate an attempt to increase to steer the ship the other way, so to speak… The primary exam boards most private schools in the UAE work with have worked hard to ensure a fair process for assessing grades, since relying on subjective measures such as teacher predictions only can be unreliable and sometimes detrimental to student outcomes,” she added.

Another option?

Beheshti said APs (Advanced Placement courses) are an option for students wanting to “either accelerate their learning or provide an extra-layer of security to subjective grades”. This applies especially to students applying to US universities, many of whom dropped the requirement for SAT test scores.

“This is partly because admissions officers don’t have the same relationships with or knowledge about schools around the world as they do with schools in the US. They have concern over issues such as grade inflation or having less control over the rigor of assessments and grading mechanisms in some countries.

‘Objective’ measures

“Without standardised tests, they could not compare students across curricula in the same way. Similarly, in the absence of standardised processes for A-Level, IB and even National exams, universities will be reluctant to admit students without alternative, objective measures of academic performances.”

Advanced Placement courses are one-year-long college-level courses for high school students in the American curriculum that are exam-based. Students from all curricula can take AP subjects on top of their regular course load and receive college credits for them while still in high school. That, Beheshti said, can enable them to bypass required classes in college or to graduate early.

The Advanced Placement programme is created by the College Board, which also created other exams such as the SAT. Crimson Global Academy is a registered AP school and allows students to enrol in AP classes online to take after school or on weekends.