The Government is proposing to abolish the Z-score system that has been used as a criterion for university selection since early 2000. This needs to be carefully thought-out before a final decision is taken.

January 15th, 2020 - Posted By Yureshya Perera

The Sri Lankan education system went through reforms during the years 1999 to 2004. The series of changes, from Grades 1 to 12 as recommended by the Presidential Task Force on Education and the National Education Commission during that period, included  Advanced Level reforms, i.e reducing the number of subjects offered from four to three, introducing Biology instead of  Zoology & Botany and a new formula, Z score, for university admission selection was introduced.

This came into being due to the disadvantages of taking the aggregate/total raw marks of different subjects to select students to universities.Due to the disparities amongst subjects, students who chose certain subjects would be likely to score higher marks.  The Z score is a number derived from a formula that took into consideration the student’s mark per each subject (X), the average mark of all students for that subject (X1) and the standard deviation (SD). In other words, X – X1 divided by the SD = Z score (a quantity that had a mean of zero & a  SD = 1, whichever the subjects under consideration).

Prof R.O. Thattil, a senior academic at the University of Peradeniya & chief architect of the Z score system, said that he believes the Government has misunderstood the Z score as being related to the district quota system.

“The Z score is a procedure to make the subject marks comparable. The solution to the issues in the existing system is to upgrade the facilities of schools in the poorer districts rather than giving quotas. I don’t see any science in introducing a quota for schools. The system should be ultimately based on pure merit by gradually reducing quotas while improving facilities of schools,” Prof Thattil said.

  1. The Z score has nothing to do with district quota. It’s calculated for a given subject using the marks of all the students sitting that subject and is NOT calculated district wise. The quota is supposedly to help the under privileged districts.
  2. The Z score is a procedure to make the subject marks comparable. The solution is to upgrade facilities of schools in the poor districts rather than giving Quotas. Raw marks are not comparable.
  3. There’s no rationale in introducing a quota for schools. The system should be ultimately based on pure merit by gradually reducing quotas while improving facilities of schools.
  4. The district quota system for university admission & the z-score formal are two different issues.

Meanwhile, LIRNEasia Senior Research Fellow Dr Sujata Gamage believes the conversation around the Z score is a red herring.

“In a patronage-based society like Sri Lanka, we need imperfect but objective criteria like the Z-score to select students to popular university courses or whatever other scarce opportunities. Alternatives to the present system will bring on other complications,” she warned.

Dr Gamage also noted that taking GCE (A/L) and Z-score as the sole criteria of success is unhealthy.

“The larger issue is that the reliance on GCE (A/L) and Z-score as the sole criteria of success because it is corrupting the education system by reducing learning to the ability to show that you have managed to retain the material covered in a set curriculum, at least until the time of the exam.

“Instead, if you reduce the content in school curricula and add more activity-based and student-centred learning opportunities, the problems of the existing system can be addressed. Schools should not be ranked by their popularity but the schools’ efforts to provide activity-based and student-centred learning opportunities which give students not only Subject Competency demonstrated by test scores but also transversal competencies such as critical and innovative thinking, inter-personal and intra-personal competencies, Citizenship, Medial and IT literacy,” she said.

Dr Gamage is also sceptical of the proposed school-based system. The Government’s decision to introduce a “school-based scientific method”, she said, does not seem to be a well-thought idea.

“If by school-based, they mean deriving a Z-score one school at a time, it does not matter how well a student does. He/she will have to do better than other students in his/her class.  Rivalry among students will go to a new level, even threatening the security of students,” she said.



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