Education systems in Pakistan and around the world are working to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Globally, 188 countries have closed education institutions which has led to an estimated 1.60 billion students to be out of schools. This is indeed an unprecedented situation in the history of education.
The academic year in most countries concludes through examinations and in these tests, along with validity and reliability, fairness is important to maintain. However, this time around, as the end of the academic year is fast approaching in many parts of the world, the question in the mind of every student, parent, teacher, and policymaker is: How to ensure continuity?
Globally, this is a massive challenge for policymakers. They are working on ways to manage already scheduled exams as the prolonged lockdown continues due to the spread of Covid-19, thereby, interrupting traditional test-taking. There would be critical implications of this delay on students' entry into universities and the labour market, leading to long-term consequences on their progress as well as having a broader socio-economic impact.
Many countries, including Pakistan, are adopting different strategies in how they're responding to Covid-19. While a very few countries such as Hong Kong, China and Germany have decided to hold traditional exams, albeit with strict measures taken to maintain hygiene, a majority of the countries have opted to postpone theirs. For example, India, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, Turkey, Greece, Spain and many others have already postponed their examinations. A few countries have cancelled theirs, such as US, UK, France, Norway, Indonesia and Japan. Recently, in Pakistan, based on recommendations from the Inter Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC), the federal government upon deliberation with the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference (IPEMC) announced cancellation of all board examinations and announced that all students will be auto-promoted based on certain criteria. These decisions have been taken in the interest of safety, health and the social and emotional well-being of students and of professionals working in the education sector.
However, many questions remain unanswered when it comes to concerns regarding fairness, equity and inclusion. For example, if exams are cancelled then what will be the basis for making decisions when it comes to allocating university placements or scholarships. If the decision is to postpone examinations, then what would be the impact of that approach on the next academic year? If the decision is to switch to continuous assessment and award grades for promotion, then how can equity, transparency, and fairness be ensured and preserved?
Similarly, if some countries are deciding to go towards online examinations, then how will they address some very critical institutional challenges, such as exam security, administration, financial resources, and adequate provision and maintenance of hardware and software. How will they ensure that students from different socioeconomic backgrounds prepare for the new format of exams in an equitable and fair manner? How will they ensure accessibility to computers and internet connectivity so students can study and take exams online?
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In Pakistan, we still have some 25 million children out of school and a vast majority of students do not have access to quality curriculum, let alone having a computer or a laptop per student. For us and several other developing countries, there is a long way to go before we can practically implement resource intensive systems that make online teaching and assessment possible. Unfortunately, this would create conditions where accessibility to education will only be possible for a few who can afford these facilities.
To conclude, policymakers will need to review grading methodology, admission requirements, and other relevant areas within their own contexts. It will be imperative that a country devise and ensure a uniform decision based on its milieu in order to minimise the negative impact on students’ promotion to the next level. Governments should introduce and enforce flexibility in the admissions process, and most importantly ensure a smooth transition and continuity.
Header photo by Mustafa Ilyas
Dr Shehzad Jeeva is a Director of the Aga Khan University Examination Board, and Chairman, Inter Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC).
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