An examination board's policy of not returning exam answer sheets has come under scrutiny, with close to 1,200 people signing an online petition calling for this practice to be reviewed.
Housewife Sreevidya Kompella, 43, started the petition to the Board for Teaching and Testing of South Asian Languages (BTTSAL) about a month ago.
Set up in 2003, it standardises the teaching and testing of five non-Tamil Indian languages: Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi and Urdu. It also conducts the semestral examinations for these languages for students from Primary 3 to junior college, but does not oversee national exams.
The languages are recognised by the Education Ministry here as mother tongue languages. There are about 8,900 students enrolled in these language classes, taught by about 420 teachers.
While students can usually bring home exam answer sheets for subjects such as English, maths and science after their papers have been marked - unless they are for national examinations like the O levels - they are unable to do so for these language subjects, the petition stated.
Ms Kompella, whose Primary 5 son is taking Hindi as a mother tongue at Telok Kurau Primary School, said this prevents students and parents from getting comprehensive feedback on their performance in the subject.
LEARNING FROM MISTAKES
It is not an issue about challenging the marks awarded to students, but about helping them to do better next time.
HOUSEWIFE SREEVIDYA KOMPELLA, who started an online petition for exam answer sheets to be returned.
"It is not an issue about challenging the marks awarded to students, but about helping them to do better next time. For example, some of my son's science answers were marked partially wrong and it was only after reviewing them and discussing with his teacher that we understood the level of precision and correct usage of technical terms that the school was looking for," said Ms Kompella, who first approached the board about this issue last October.
Mr Mohammed Shahidul Islam, who has two children aged 11 and 15 studying Bengali, agreed.
"We need to see the exam papers to be able to catch their mistakes," said the 48-year-old, who owns an engineering business.
BTTSAL works with seven community groups, including the Hindi Society (Singapore) and the Urdu Development Society (Singapore). The groups are responsible for the hiring, training and remuneration of their teachers. It was reported in 2009 that the BTTSAL receives an annual grant of $1.5 million from the Government.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, the board said it has a policy of not returning the examination scripts because of the "short turnaround time" for marking and reviewing the scripts, and processing the marks. But it did not say why the papers could not be returned after the marks have been processed.
Currently, students can review their marked exam scripts at six exam centres during a two-hour session. The board said: "At this session, students' queries are addressed in detail and marking errors rectified, if any."
It added that students are given a fair chance to learn from their mistakes as the board gives a "detailed" performance summary, which provides information on students' performance in every component of the paper, to parents and teachers.
But parents said the summaries and feedback sessions are inadequate.
Training manager Anita Uppal, 39, whose two sons take Hindi as a mother tongue at St Stephen's School, said: "My child said that during the feedback session, he adds up the marks to make sure they are correct, and that the teacher goes through some, but not all, of the questions.
"He would prefer to bring the paper home so that we could go through it with him at his pace."
The board has contacted Ms Kompella and said it will meet her for a discussion soon. She hopes the board can consider alternatives.
"I understand that there are logistical challenges, but there are some solutions that can be worked out, such as using technology."