THE decision to promote all students awaiting the results of their board exams by awarding grace marks is likely to raise doubts. Though the move may appear fair to many in light of the current situation in which frequent school closures have disrupted studies, there is also the issue of how well the students — or at least a number of them — can cope in a higher grade. The Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference decided on Monday to award students who had appeared in their board exams for Matric or Intermediate but who scored below the pass mark, 33pc to make them eligible for the next stage. It was also decided that students would be awarded 50pc grace marks in practical examinations. This was a decision taken by education ministers in all the provinces. There is no doubt that students, teachers and the education authorities have faced unprecedented challenges in the outgoing academic year, but there is now a greater challenge to face as unprepared students are thrust into the next academic session which will obviously require a more advanced understanding of their subjects than they had in the previous grade. Besides, it will be seen as unfair by those students who, despite the difficulties, worked hard to earn their grade.

Surely this state of affairs should lead our education departments to think deeply about how to deal with a challenge that is likely to recur if the Covid situation does not improve and school closures remain frequent. In addition to devising a marking scheme that is more reflective of students’ true capabilities, it might want to take lessons from other countries whose solid educational infrastructure has made access to remote learning via laptops, smartphones and high-speed internet easy for secondary students. This will not be easy in our context and new, innovative ways of teaching large numbers of students will also have to be found. The awarding of grace marks must be a one-time concession. Education departments know the challenges of Covid by now and should plan accordingly.

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2021

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