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Schools gear up to deliver digital exams

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 11 August 2020, 8:47 am

Crown company N4L has begun offering schools free internet health checks ahead of NCEA exam season in November when digital exams will replace paper for an increasing number of students.

N4L, through a partnership with New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), expects 300 schools to undertake the checks which will look at each school's cybersecurity preparedness, but other factors that might disrupt an exam, such as patchy wifi coverage in an exam room or internet connections lacking the capacity to accommodate hundreds of students logging on at once.

The cybersecurity issue is no trivial one - N4L says that last year when it first offered the digital health checks, it helped a school continue with a digital exam while it was hit with an online security attack.

Orewa College expects 700 students to sit up to 17 exams between November 16, when the exam schedule kicks off with Te Reo Rangatira and physics and December 9, when it closes with dance and earth and space science.

Making sure kids can connect

"These assessments give our school the assurance we need that there will be no unexpected surprises during the exam period," said Orewa College deputy principal, Sue McCarthny.

"I was really impressed how thoroughly N4L checks all the exam rooms, and in doing so they picked up a few shortfalls which could have led to an issue during exams that we weren't prepared for," she added.

The health checks come amid a big government push to ensure that at least two-thirds of NCEA exams can be delivered digitally by 2022. The benefits of digital exams include less administration, lower error rates, getting results to students more quickly and saving paper and money as online forms replace thousands of paper booklets.

Going digital also puts the exam in the familiar environment of the modern student reducing exam day nerves.

Education minister Chris Hipkins yesterday announced a $69 million package for the education sector, $20 million of which will fund the development of digital identities for secondary students, allowing them to log on to access their exams and results when they're released.

Facebook-like log-on

"We expect this work a little bit like a Facebook or Google login where people have an online profile and can log in into a wide range of websites and services," said Hipkins.

"On top of that, the Government is bolstering centralised ICT and cybersecurity support to give all state and state-integrated schools the option to sign up. This will reduce the burden on individual schools to provide the support and upgrades themselves."

Around $49 million in funding will go towards offering that centralised support, some of it through N4L.

The digital exam push is currently still centred around exam rooms at schools. But other countries hit with pandemic stay at home orders have had to adopt technology, such as facial recognition and remote monitoring via webcam, to keep tabs on students completing their exams at home and to stamp out cheating. 



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