Algorithms and the coronavirus pandemic

World

Algorithms and the coronavirus pandemic

Backlash grows over governments’ use of automated decision-making tools

Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan

“This year we are going to put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms,” Gavin Williamson, the British education secretary, announced on Wednesday.

The UK government is eager to avoid a repeat of last year’s fiasco over exams in England’s schools. With exams cancelled because of the disruption caused by the coronavirus, Ofqual, the government department in charge of examinations, had created an algorithm which was meant to stop grade inflation by standardising teachers’ assessed grades.

For thousands of pupils, the algorithm was a disaster, marking down a number of grades and sparking a political firestorm. Facing protests, where pupils chanted “Fuck the algorithm”, Ofqual caved. It was scrapped, pupils received teacher-assessed grades and the department’s chief regulator, Sally Collier, resigned...

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