THE government’s decision to halt physical lessons from grades 1 to 8 till April 28, but to resume classes and exams from grades 9 to 12 from April 19 has irked millions of students across the country. The students have spent a good part of their academic year at home. Although a large number of schools arranged for online classes, many students could not avail this facility due to a number of factors ranging from limited access to devices such as smartphones and laptops to unstable internet and electricity connections. In May 2020, the federal government decided to promote students on their year-round performance. Schools were reopened under a phased plan in January 2021, with classes at most educational institutions being held at half strength on alternate days. However, with the country now struck hard by a third wave of devastating infections, the decision to go ahead with Matric, Inter and O-/A-level board exams appears rash. Recent studies show that the new Covid-19 strain is affecting more children than before, while the country’s positivity rate is nearly 10pc, and even higher in some of the most affected cities. The decision then to continue with classes and exams is risky and could endanger the health of thousands of young people in the country. Indeed, several countries including Bangladesh, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have cancelled O-/A-level exams.

Surely, the authorities could have repeated last year’s exercise with some improvements and thus avoided putting a large number of students in harm’s way. While the Cambridge authorities have said that all SOPs will be followed, are our education departments confident that this will be the case during Matric and Inter exams, which are often held in dilapidated government schools without electricity and adequate seating arrangements? Moreover, how will fair assessment be ensured when a large number of students have not been able to complete the required coursework owing to intermittent disruptions in their schooling arrangements? It would be wise to review this decision.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2021

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