PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court on Wednesday sought the response of the federal government to two petitions against the holding of O and A Level examinations by the Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE) in the country amid the surging coronavirus incidence.

A bench consisting of Justice Musarrat Hilali and Justice Mohammad Nasir Mahfooz directed a deputy attorney general to file comments on the matter on behalf of the federal government and provide a copy of them to the counsel for petitioners before the next hearing fixed for tomorrow (Friday).

The petitions were filed by Syeda Hajira Haider and several other students, who requested the court to declare illegal the decision of the respondents, including the federal government and CAIE, on the non-cancellation of O, A and AS level examinations.

The petitioners sought the court’s orders for the respondents to cancel the examinations slated to begin in May, insisting that the holding of exams will put them to great disadvantage.

Cambridge International insists court lacks jurisdiction to hear matter

They also called for the holding of O, A and AS level exams and marking of papers on the basis of the Teachers Assessed Grades (TAG) system in the country like the other Zone 4 countries.

Lawyer Zarak Shah appeared for the petitioners, while deputy attorney general Amir Javed represented the federal government, including the education ministry and National Command and Control Centre (NCOC).

Barristers Yaseen Raza and Asfandyar appeared for the British Council and CAIE respectively and said their clients were based out of the country, so their decisions didn’t fall in the jurisdiction of the high court.

They pointed out that the federal and provincial governments had already announced the holding of secondary and intermediate examinations across the country from May 26 but they’re not challenged in the court by the candidates unlike the petitioners, who moved the court against the O and A level exams.

The counsel said the NCOC had taken the decision of holding those examinations after considering the prevalent coronavirus-related situation in the country.

When the bench asked DAG Amir Javed about the federal government’s comments on the petition, he said he had filed the same in the morning.

However, the bench observed that those comments weren’t present in the case file.

The bench asked him to file the response and provide its copy to the petitioners.

The respondents in the petition are the federation of Pakistan through the federal education secretary, NCOC through its director-general, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government through education secretary, and CAIE through its country director, British Council Office, Islamabad.

The lawyers for petitioners said the Cambridge programmes and qualifications were a global standard for International education.

He said the CAIE had allocated every country to one of its six administrative zones so as to maintain exam security, and manage the timetabling of exams.

The lawyer said Pakistan was part of Zone 4, which covered central and eastern Europe, Scandinavia, northern Asia and parts of Middle East.

He added that each zone had own syllabus and timetable.

The lawyer pointed out that since Mar 2020, educational institutions had largely been closed due to the complete lockdown imposed by the government to stem the spread of coronavirus.

He said even though online classes were conducted, students were unable to benefit from them like the in-person learning, so they’re not prepared to take A Level examination. The lawyer also said not all students had an access to online classes.

The counsel said students were given grades last year after the cancellation of exams on the basis of mock examinations, tests and internal assessments, attendance, and other relevant factors.

He said surprisingly, in the current year, the government had decided to go ahead with those exams though the Covid-19positivity rate was much higher than that time, hospitals were occupied to the maximum capacity, and even teenagers were admitted to coronavirus wards.

The lawyer said many countries in the Cambridge Examination Zone 4 had cancelled those exams, so students from all other countries of the zone were going ahead with Teachers Assessed Grades and would be awarded higher grades.

He added that the same would cause the grade threshold to be very high negatively to the misery of students in Pakistan, who intended to go abroad for higher studies as their chances of getting scholarships would be lower compared to other candidates.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2021

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