By Prasun Sonwalkar
After financial services and religious prayers, education is the latest to join the outsourcing bandwagon?sending thousands of mark-sheets of Western students abroad for speedier marking.
Edexcel, Britain´s examination board, is sending thousands of answers to GCSE (secondary school) papers abroad for marking in Australia and the US.
Outsourcing in financial services is old news, while contracting out religious prayers to priests in Kerala is a growing phenomenon.
Now the Edexcel board has set up examination centres in Sydney and Iowa to mark responses by candidates in eight GCSE subjects and vocational qualifications.
Said Ted Wragg, Emeritus Professor of Education at Exeter University: ?This is just a dummy run. If the technology works, soon we will see marking centres in low-wage economies like India and Africa, in a drive to cut costs.?
Students´ papers are scanned electronically in Britain and then groups of questions are sent by computer to the centres where more than 100 staff members are hired to complete the marking in time for results in August.
Edexcel, taken over by the Pearson publishing company in a ? 20-million deal last year, said the move would speed up the grading process without compromising on standards.
The staff in Australia and the US mark only tick-box and short answers on the exam papers. Examiners working from home in Britain assess longer responses.
The subjects covered are GCSE mathematics, science, information and communication technology, modern languages and music and GNVQs in IT, business and health and social care.
Edexcel said use of the foreign examination centres permitted round-the-clock marking of papers by taking advantage of the different time zones.
It also increased accuracy, since questions could be ´double-marked´ by examiners in different centres to reduce the risk of errors.
Frank Wingate, spokesman for Edexcel, said the process would also provide better feedback to teachers by allowing them to see how well their students did on individual questions in the exam papers.
The centres are owned by Pearson, which runs the largest commercial test marking business in the US, and are used to marking American and Australian examinations.
Edexcel said the overseas staff had been trained to deal with the British papers.
?This will help make the marking system more efficient while easing the burden on our markers in the UK,? Wingate said.
Wingate said about one per cent of the total number of questions answered in Edexcel papers this year were being handled by the foreign marking centres.
However, concerns have been raised about the contracting of examinations to foreign markers.
One GCSE chemistry marker told The Times Educational Supplement: ?I would not want my child having his paper marked by someone who is outside of the British education system.?
Indians largest non-White group in Britain
Indians comprise the largest ethnic minority group among Britain´s population of some 60 million, said a government study here.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) emphasised Britain´s changing ethnic make-up with 4.6 million people describing themselves as ´non-White´.
Just over 92 per cent of British residents were White.
Among ethnic minorities, Indians were the largest group, followed by Pakistanis, people of mixed race, black Caribbeans, black Africans and Bangladeshis.
The number of non-White Britons has risen by 53 per cent in the past decade.
The ONS said Britain was home to 59.2 million people in 2002, a rise of 9 million in 50 years and of 1.7 million in the past decade.
It estimates the population will reach 64.8 million in 2031 because of higher life expectancy and the ?increasingly important factor? of immigration. The average age of the population has risen from 34.1 years in 1971 to 38.2 in 2002 and is projected to reach 43.3 in 2031.
The data, from the 2001 Census and more recent surveys where available, show a total of 8.3 per cent of residents (4.9 million) were born abroad, almost double the proportion recorded in 1951.
Population of those born outside Britain increased more between 1991 and 2001 than in any of the preceding post-war decades. Immigration increased from 265,000 people in 1993 to 513,000 in 2002, while the numbers leaving the country rose from 266,000 to 359,000 during the same period.
Sri Ravi Shankar´s UK visit generates interest
India´s new age guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar´s week-long visit to Britain has generated much interest, particularly in Scotland where he has a busy three-day schedule including an address to the Scottish parliament.
The visit evoked some press coverage in a country where his Art of Living programmes have not taken off in the way they have in other countries of the West. His schedule included lectures and programmes in London and Leicester.
Some headlines were indicative of the interest generated: ´The smiling holy man who dreams of a world full of joy´, ´Guru´s art of living mission´, ´A spot of meditation followed by a gentle drift back to nirvana central´.
In a 1,500-word report on his visit to Scotland, the Evening News recalled that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, 48, was fascinated by religion and was said to be adept at reciting ancient texts at the age of four.
He said: ?People did not understand me when I said I felt that the whole world was my family. They thought I was a little bit odd.?
Remembering his youthful skill for reciting sacred texts, he added: ?That was a fascination for many people; all the religious leaders were fascinated. I was the focus of attention.
?My parents were religious and were very supportive of me but they also did not always understand what I was saying.
?They thought I was using my imagination too much.?
It was his first visit to Scotland, and Edinburgh was the 76th city he has visited this year.
He told the paper that by the end of December, he would have given speeches in 115 cities?a total that he says is ´about normal´.
´I spend half my time in the air. A holiday for me is just sitting and meditating, singing and playing. We have that holiday experience every day; I don´t need a special vacation,? he told the paper.
The report added: ?One thing he has not found time for is a family of his own. When asked if he has a wife, he looks a bit bashful before saying: ´I am single.
?It is surprising for someone who loves people so much to seem not to want a partner or children of his own.
?In explanation, he says he does not feel he will ever be ready for that, adding simply: ´I feel I am a child who has not grown up´.?
His visit includes a talk to offenders at Saughton prison, Edinburgh.
Father Brian Gowan, a chaplain at the jail, said: ?I am sure His Holiness will provide a much needed way to serenity and great food for thought to all who listen.?
(The writer is a UK-based journalist and can be contacted on [email protected])