GCSE exams: Should paper and pens be a thing of the past?

By Nia Medi
BBC News

image source, Guto Aaron
image captionGuto Aaron believes exams should change to better reflect how children live their lives

Paper and pens should be things of the past in school exams to reflect "the world we live in", according to a teacher who helps others with technology.

Guto Aaron said handwritten tests go against how pupils now revise, learn and live their lives.

The Welsh exam board WJEC is "committed to expanding our digital assessment offering", a spokesman said.

A consultation also takes place later this year on how exams work.

"We will have to move with this in future," said Mr Aaron, who is also a technology teacher at Ysgol Bro Sannan in Bargoed, Caerphilly county.

"It's not going to be an easy task or something that can be done next year, but it's fair to ask now why we are asking children to sit down for three hours with a pen and paper when it's something we would never do in our professional lives," he told Post Cyntaf on BBC Radio Cymru.

"Why are we expecting anything different from the pupils?"

However, there are potential pitfalls in going digital - in May, the WJEC exam board had to apologise after a "technical issue" affected pupils taking a GCSE computer science exam.

It is unclear how many schools were affected, but people in the Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff, Pembrokeshire and Rhondda Cynon Taff raised issues.

Mr Aaron acknowledged technology has its problems and it would be "a long process" before exams are fully digital.

image source, Getty Images
image captionPupils now spend much of their time using computers in class

"When we tested something similar in primary schools last year, it went quite well but I'm sure all schools will tell you they had their difficulties," Mr Aaron added.

"I know of one primary school where a child took a test but they didn't get the results because the system had lost the answers.

"If that happened with GCSE exams, what on earth would you do?"

He said any system would need to be created with "plenty of failsafes", to cover problems such as the school wi-fi going down or a power cut during the exam.

But he added: "Does it have to happen?

"Yes. The way the world is going, and although writing is important, we need to at least give children the choice."

'Digital testing'

Pupils from Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr in Cardiff were born into the digital world and use different devices to study.

Gwion said: "I think things should change because technology has come so far to make our lives easier, but education is behind with this.

"We've still got to take the exams using a pen and paper and we don't use computers where we could."

But Isabella said: "Everyone knows how to write, and in my opinion, it's easier to write everything out.

"If I was to type in the exams, I'd overthink things and go back on it and that takes a lot of time, and we really don't have a lot of time."

Exam regulator Qualifications Wales' chief executive Philip Blaker said it would consult later this year on now things need to change to support the Welsh Government's new curriculum.

He added: "We want exams to make optimal use of technology to better engage with learners, and will be looking at how the qualifications system might shift towards better use of digital testing in future."

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