25 February 2022 0 The 2021 South Pacific Form Seven Certificate (SPFSC) qualification was successfully administered in three Pacific island countries despite the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, 1,391 students at Year 13 level from Kiribati, Vanuatu and Tuvalu enrolled in the programme. The Pacific Community’s (SPC) Educational Quality and Assessment Programme (EQAP) has been administering the SPFSC since 2004 at the Year 13 level. This qualification serves as an entrance prerequisite into undergraduate programmes in Universities across the Pacific and internationally. In response to the challenges brought forth by the pandemic in 2020, EQAP quickly moved the SPFSC program onto a Moodle platform that enabled teachers and students to access lesson activities and a whole host of other resources without the need for face-to-face interactions. All 16 subjects offered under the SPFSC programme have internal and external assessment components. The internal assessment is administered, scored and results are submitted progressively through the year between May and October. Some of the difficulties faced by EQAP in supporting the internal assessment program in 2021 included the inability to train teachers in person at the beginning of the school year in each country and the inability to make follow-up visits to schools to see how teachers are implementing the internal assessment program in August-September. To combat the teacher training issue, videos were created and made available to teachers to help them understand the SPFSC processes. Similarly, matters relating to EQAP’s ability to check on how well schools are implementing the internal assessment program were mitigated through close collaboration between EQAP and the Examinations and Assessments Unit officers in countries, who were supported through training, and provision of documents and finance, to carry out the verification visits on behalf of EQAP. The external assessment component comprises of an end of year in-person examination and answered scripts are returned to EQAP soon after the end of examinations for scoring, data capture, data checks, data analyses, and release of results and reports. In the 2021 context, despite the different levels of challenges imposed by the pandemic, a common examination date was agreed to by countries and these dates were pegged to meet the needs of the three countries. While EQAP was able to release some SPFSC results in the first week of January 2022, many obstacles were overcome to make this a reality. A lot of these obstacles were linked to border closures of the three participating countries. The closure of borders and lack of flights to Tuvalu and Kiribati meant that papers had to be despatched and returned by repatriation flights and boat respectively and subjected to all the COVID-19 regulations that apply at the ports. While papers reached all three countries well before examination dates, two island schools in Kiribati struggled to return answered scripts to EQAP due to transportation issues. EQAP finally received the papers on 1 February and has managed to release the SPFSC results to the participating countries on 4 February. In Fiji, due to uncertainties caused by heightened COVID-19 restrictions, working with scorers was a big challenge in 2021. Virtual tools came to our rescue again as the use of an online application facilitated the data capture process greatly and improved the rate of checking of results by script checkers before processing. Despite these significant obstacles, all the scripts have now been scored with 2021’s success rate standing at 85%, which is a great achievement when matched with the elevated rates of COVID-19 restrictions imposed in the year. What can we expect for 2022? EQAP’s IT team is working closely with the Curriculum and Assessment team to further develop the virtual application that will help EQAP and participating countries continue to improve management of the SPFSC programme this year. Specific to the internal assessment component of the program, an online system will be developed that will capture submissions, scoring, and data capture related to the assessment. This system will be developed early in 2022 so that it can be tested during the first round of assessments in May and consolidated in the months that follow. As 2022 progresses, EQAP will work with teachers and heads of schools to further improve the internal assessment system – investing in virtual platforms to strengthen the quality of education in the Pacific. In addition, another virtual tool will also be developed this year that will facilitate the offer of the Assessment Instrument development micro qualification training and continue to strengthen the skill base of our pool of examiners and moderators as face-to-face trainings are restricted in the region. For students, the SPFSC not only acts as a prerequisite for university entrance in their countries, it provides them with the opportunity to start employment - whether this be paid employment immediately after successfully completing the qualification, or an internship or training towards paid employment. The assessment also paves the way for students to grab scholarship opportunities for further studies and to be selected into Universities in Australia and New Zealand as a result of the wide recognition of this qualification. More information about the SPFSC program can be accessed here.