Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said on Sunday that the Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE) examinations would take place as per schedule and there would be no delay or cancellation.
In a series of tweets, the education minister said the decision, among others, had been taken in a special meeting of health and education ministers from the four provinces, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. "Those students wishing to take exams in Oct/Nov can do so in the same fee already paid," he added.
"Meeting was also informed that Cambridge has decided not to give teacher-assessed grades this year therefore those not taking exams will take them in the next cycle Oct/Nov," said Mahmood, adding that the CAIE had assured that Covid-19 standard operating procedures would be "strictly followed".
The Lahore High Court on Wednesday had issued notices to the British Council, Pakistan director of CAIE and the federal ministry of education on a petition challenging the physical presence of students in O and A levels exams despite the rising incidence of Covid-19 cases in the country.
Several students filed the petition through Barrister Hassaan Khan Niazi, pleading that O and A levels classes had not been held for the whole academic year and the syllabus was not covered for the most part, yet the students were forced to take exams in the traditional way, putting their own lives and those of their family members at risk. They said the respondents had announced that the exams would be held with the physical presence of the students in the examination halls and rooms.
However, they said, the CAIE had given two options to the respective governments of the countries witnessing the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases; to either hold exams in the traditional way or to avail school-assessed grades for the students.
The petitioners had contended that the education ministry and other local authorities could prevent the massive risk to the health and life of the petitioners and request the CAIE to opt for school-assessed grades. They had asked the court to direct the government to request the British Council and CAIE to switch over to the option for school-assessed grades and avoid the risk for the petitioners.
Other decisions in the meeting
Among the other decisions taken in the meeting was that "classes 9 to 12 would commence in affected districts in a staggered manner to allow students to prepare for board exams."
He said that new dates would be issued by the boards for examinations of classes 9-12 and thus, they would not start before the fourth week of May. "University admissions schedule will be adjusted keeping in view the new exam time table."
Meanwhile, "classes 1 to 8 will remain closed. The details will be announced by the provinces and GB [and] AJK," he said.
Universities, said Mahmood, would continue to operate with online learning in affected districts while they would continue to function as per normal in districts with "less than eight per cent (Covid) positivity".
Restrictions imposed in Sindh's schools
Hours later, Sindh Education Minister Senator Saeed Ghani tweeted that the education department had decided to suspend in-person classes for grades 1 to 8 in public and private schools across the province till May 1 due to rising cases of the coronavirus.
"Education of all students can be continued through online [teaching], homework and other sources," he said.
"Classes in school [grades] 9/10 and colleges will continue with 50 per cent attendance. Educational institutions will be required to strictly adhere to the SOPs (standard operating procedures)."
Sindh reported 673 new coronavirus cases yesterday — the highest daily caseload since Jan 31 when the province confirmed 812 infections.
Additional reporting by Imtiaz Ali