Sunday, May 11, 2008

Invigilators and Certified Incompetence

There is a myriad of examinations conducted daily island-wide to certify the qualifications of workers in a vast array of expertise from workplace safety to skills and workmanship.

I always believe that workers who are certified in a particular expertise are really qualified since they have passed the necessary prerequisites until a recent episode changed my belief.

In a recent training with construction workers on assessing workplace safety, I was perturbed by the fact that during the written examination, the one and only invigilator was lax in his discharge of duties, choosing to read newspapers and ignoring the very fact that a majority of the foreign workers were actually blatantly discussing the answers and openly lifting answers from the answer sheets of their colleagues. Some even turned back and nonchalantly copied the answers from my colleagues.

Imagine this group of foreign workers were supposed to earn their safety assessment licences by passing the examinations with due competency in the field. Instead they chose to copy to earn the licence. Just imagine the carnage they would cause, the possible loss of life that if they were to assess workplace safety with their ‘certified incompetence’; a licence to supervise workplace safety might well be a licence to kill ! it might be even more dangerous for worksites to be assessed by them as their colleagues trust them with their certified knowledge, not knowing the route that they use to earn the licence !

This episode is indeed a sobering one to me, and it hammers home the important role of invigilators and their integrity. The same episode might be played out daily in all parts of the world, where incompetent doctors, engineers, workmen earn their ‘qualifications’ through a flawed invigilation system; the harm their ‘certification’ might cause may be immense!

On a separate note, employers sending their foreign workers to be certified in a particular expertise via an examination system should make it a point that these foreign workers really understand English. From my interaction with the ‘copycats’, I deduced that none of them is really competent in or could speak good English and that might be the triggering point of their cheating.

Another point for employers to note is the message sent to their workers about training. Such messages like “You must pass the examination and come back with the licence by hook or crook; I do not want to waste more money for you to retake!” from employers especially those who are cash-strapped; definitely create stress for the foreign workers to earn their licences by any mean!

At the end of the day, though the examination was really simple (I do not know why the foreign construction workers still cheat); it was incredible that there was one failure.

Without any surprise, and no prize for you if you get it correctly; the failure was a foreign construction worker, who sat in the front of the room (no choice, as he was late) and the very one of the foreign workers who did not cheat!

It is common to read about workplace deaths in newspapers; some of these could arise due to incompetence of workers arising from a lax invigilation of their examination for the qualifications.

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