No winners in this situation

Wouldn’t it have been better for schools to remain closed indefinitely until the threat had passed over and Covid-19 became a distant memory?

— File photo
— File photo

The importance of summer vacations cannot be overstated. For most students, these offer a respite following a long year of diligent work. With the threats of unprecedented levels of heat and humidity, and a global pandemic looming over our heads, having the students safe within their houses is all the more important.

In this context, it came as a shock to me when I learnt that the federal government had decided to hold examinations nonetheless.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has created a difficult situation, with no clear solution in sight. But, raising concerns over this decision is far from unjustified. And although I am sure a great deal of careful thought went into it, with every possible option evaluated with painstaking detail, one cannot help but feel as if this is playing with children’s lives.

The deadly virus alone should have been a major cause for concern. Coupled with some of the worst temperatures we have seen, this could be a recipe for disaster.

The myriad potential avenues of harm make me wonder why the people at the top decided to go ahead with examinations. Given the hardships and obstacles faced by the country, there was hardly any urgency to hold examinations.

There is no denying that examinations play an integral role in an educational system. There is no better measure of a student’s abilities. Nor does a method exist that evaluates their knowledge as comprehensively. This need for accurate evaluation is even more important as the hardships and obstacles of online education greatly hindered. The opening of schools during June-July does offer a way to rectify this, but it all seems premature. Accurate evaluation could have waited until the situation was not as dire as it currently is.

This can be seen by the method in which the examinations are taking place. O Levels’ students only had to sit for their compulsory subjects during the summers; these too with only one test being taken per subject. If accurate evaluation truly was the urgent need of the hour, then only one paper — in some cases, just MCQs — is hardly going to get the job done. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

The same is true for students sitting for the matriculation and intermediate examinations. Being tested for only half your subjects, with the practical examinations in most cases being omitted, can’t be an accurate assessment of a student’s learning.

Making the examination itself tougher, like those taken by students in Class 12, is also no solution. On one hand, students received worse education through online classes, on the other, they are being unfairly subjected to examinations that can have the opposite effect of what they hope to achieve.

Many people believe that with the SOPs in place the students shall be safe. However, you can hardly see the SOPs being followed in the examination halls. Outside of it the students are free to mingle, most of them without their masks on. Contracting the virus is a distinct possibility every time you leave the house and interact with people. The dangers increase tenfold when you congregate in an enclosed space with hundreds of other people.

The recent reports of the delta variant add an element of threat to an already difficult situation. The pandemic, the heat, the year of online education… have resulted in a situation where there are no winners. And despite the increased threat in recent days, with half the country already having appeared for their examinations, it is hardly possible to stop the examinations now.

Having said all this, wouldn’t it have been better for schools to remain closed until the threat had passed over and Covid-19 became a distant memory? Not quite.

Examinations are an integral part of our education system. Not holding examinations could benefit no one. But, holding examinations before the country is equipped to deal with the situation, is also not the solution.

The writer is pursuing a   bachelor’s degree in computer science at the University of   Lahore. He can be reached at [email protected]

No winners in this situation