Extreme uncertainty

Almost all examinations, including the SAT and university tests like NUST’s NET, may be postponed or cancelled

On January 18, the news of a university student’s tragic suicide appeared online. As it gained traction and the situation was elaborated upon, the university workload and especially the campus reopening were pointed out as a cause of the suicide. Covid-19 is now more than a year old and as much as we would hate to admit it, social aspects of the pandemic remain understated amidst a flurry of news regarding more immediate impacts. Since this pandemic has been all-encompassing, education and examinations have suffered greatly. This has left many students in limbo, and the situation doesn’t seem to be improving in the near future.

The first batch to suffer from these inconsistencies in examination was the class of 2020. At a time when the pandemic was running rampant, most examinations were cancelled. These included SATs, Cambridge exams, Board exams and everything of the sort. From then on, online teaching really took hold. On the surface it didn’t seem too big of a problem since many of us had used the internet to do video calls all over the world at that point. However, online teaching really made everyone in academia understand that in-person teaching is irreplaceable.

The teaching platform, online and unsatisfactory in this case, has a direct impact on examinations and students’ performance in them. Lack of motivation or unavailability of technology can have a tangible effect on the grades a student may receive. This is exactly what happened in many online examinations that have taken place over the past few months. Almost as important a topic as online classes being ineffective is the academic dishonesty rampant in online examinations. Khadija Munawwar, a college student from the batch of 2022 talked to TNS about how elusive academic dishonesty is for the examiners, saying “People had Discord voice channels that allowed them to cheat and not be caught.” According to students, an online environment does not offer the opportunity to oversee examinations in a satisfactory manner.

Online examinations, along with an unfair workload and social isolation for students, appear to have made a very strong case for the schools to reopen. Therefore, through an official tweet on January 15, Dr Murad Raas, the Punjab minister of education, announced the dates for reopening of schools and colleges. In the tweet he declared “Schedule for all schools of Punjab: 9, 10, 11, 12 classes to open on January 18, 2021. Primary, Middle and Universities will be opening on February 1, 2021.” And so the schools did open, welcoming back the students. Some schools are even holding on-campus examinations. However, the SOPs and their implementation still seem dubious. Despite Dr Raas’s claim that, “No one has followed the SOPs better than schools”, the situation on the ground seems different.

In times of such extreme uncertainty, students are left wondering what their future holds. Especially for the students who are at crucial points of their academic careers.

When asked about SOPs at schools after the winter break, Habiba Rashid, an A-level student, told TNS, “While we do have adequate distance between students in a classroom, the rules just go out of the window in the corridors”. If we focus on in-person examination halls, the situation doesn’t seem that encouraging either. Khadija Munawwar, a student who took her O-Level examinations in November told TNS “I was expecting quite a lot of strict SOPs because of the fact that this was a British Council examination hall. However, there were almost no SOPs being implemented in the examination hall. Students could sit and talk in the corridor without distancing or wearing masks.” She does say, however, that British Council became a bit more aware later on when the second wave really started showing its effects in Pakistan, “Later on, they closed the guardians’ waiting area, and tried to be a little stricter about the SOPs in the corridors but I think it still was not enough.”

Despite the apparent mismanagement of examinations amidst the pandemic, the government’s policy appears very clear. Shafqat Mehmood, the federal minister for education, tweeted the following on January 4: “Let me emphasise that this year nobody will be promoted without examinations.” Ironically, he made this announcement alongside the announcement of Board examinations being postponed to May/June.

However, if we look at the situation at the moment, students can’t help but feel a certain sense of uncertainty in their futures. With Wales cancelling GCSEs and A-Levels for 2021, there is a precedent that the rest of the UK is considering following. It seems unlikely that Cambridge examinations will be held worldwide. It is not unreasonable to think that students not taking the examinations and getting their predicted grades would have an advantage few would call fair. This uncertainty is not only limited to one or two boards, though. Almost every examination, including the SAT and university tests like NUST’s NET, may be postponed or cancelled for entire sessions.

In times of such extreme uncertainty, students are left wondering what their future holds. Especially for the students who are at crucial points of their academic careers, these unprecedented times bring new challenges that can only be dealt with through clear communication channels.

The writer is a student at LUMS and a reporter for The LUMS Post.

Extreme uncertainty