Students look into the camera during a cllass at the TCF Gambat school. - Photo by Mustafa Ilyas

Decision-making on education around Covid-19 should ensure equity, fairness and continuity

Policymakers need to review grading methodology, admission requirements, and other relevant areas within their contexts.
Published 18 May, 2020 10:37am

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.

Also read | The Analytical Angle: Covid-19 and the looming education crisis

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?

More on this: Covid-19 — A wakeup call for higher education

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


Author Image

Dr Shehzad Jeeva is a Director of the Aga Khan University Examination Board, and Chairman, Inter Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC).

All opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (7) Closed

May 18, 2020 01:53pm
Does people here seriously still thinks that grade matters and worried about placements . Entry tests can be conducted in universities which can easily access students merit.
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Jai Moolchandani
May 18, 2020 04:15pm
Real challenge for real leaders ....!
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Wanthi Baedhi
May 18, 2020 05:00pm
Education and pakistan?
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Farrukh safdar
May 19, 2020 10:07am
Our problem lies at the grass root level. The contrast of "rich and poor". We curse our governments for everything but don't want to contribute any betterment for society. The advanced counties of world have govt. Schools as only option for primary and secondary education. It's a matter of pride to send children to govt school in Europe, America, Japan, Australia etc. Likewise these schools are maintained with top notch facilities and standards. Teachers are well paid and students have to obey rules . Unless we change our base of education and remove the rich and poor culture our country may remain in dark ages for centuries to come.
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May 19, 2020 12:17pm
Most of the questions are true to reflect. In my opinion, examinations are just part of overall education system and that is the reason that one must also think about what may be alternate ways to access, educate and assess. For the start, Universities or colleges may put other merits in addition to examination results for their admission processes so if they are smart enough other criteria would weigh more than the results. Equity in fact is the more important concern here. lets put our efforts here to increase access to education for all
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May 19, 2020 04:35pm
i dont know about others but sind government is least interested in this subject. Good managers can arrange exams with safety precautions, so long as the govt is willing to pay the cost. all it needs is a Will to save an education year on the verge of wasted.
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May 19, 2020 09:55pm
Beautiful innocent pictures of these young gems
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