Pakistani students explain why this year's O and A Level exams should be cancelled

Pakistani students explain why this year's O and A Level exams should be cancelled

Faulty online learning systems, poor mental health, and a literal pandemic don't make for a regular school year.
Updated 15 Mar, 2021

Twitter has been buzzing for the past few days as Pakistani students voice their concerns with in-person O and A Level examinations being held later this year. They believe holding the exams is unfair, given the troubled academic year.

Cambridge International announced that it would be cancelling in-person exams in a "very small" number of countries — 10 , including the UK — ad instead awarding students grades based on their teachers' assessment, or expected grades.

The board claimed the Covid directives issued by select governments make it "impossible" to conduct physical examinations there. This statement has been met with global backlash. Students across the globe have taken to social media to voice their discontent with the update, demanding governments and the examination board review the decision, and cancel exams in other countries as well. In Pakistan, candidates for the upcoming session have also been making noise on the internet.

They say nothing has been normal about the past year, yet they're not being given any concessions.

Many struggled with online learning and missed out on lessons.

Some students say their mental health has suffered during the pandemic and academic institutions should take that into account.

One reminded people that students have lost loved ones during the pandemic and can't be expected to go on like everything is normal.

In response to a tweet by Shahzad Yunas Sheikh, a member of the ruling PTI, inquiring about the students' concerns, 17-year-old Ahmar neatly outlined the situation.

He said local education authorities have reduced the syllabus but nothing has been done for O and A Level students.

What exactly is at stake here? There are two key problems being highlighted by the students: the difficulty giving the exams due to the year lost in online studies, and the threat of not being able to compete for limited university seats against students graduating with more lenient policies.

Across the world, several education systems have announced cancellations or leniency in grading. On March 10, Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood announced that schools in seven cities across Punjab will be shut down again, after being opened briefly.

The reopening of schools and public spaces has been linked to a rise in Covid cases in Pakistan. He argued that the Covid situation in Sindh and Balochistan was "satisfactory" and therefore schools didn't have to shut down there.

Cambridge International had earlier announced that it would run a 'single uniform system' to ensure students around the world are treated the same as those in the UK. But students around the world feel Cambridge has contradicted itself by allowing exams to be cancelled in some countries, while students in other countries are being made to appear for physical exams.

As Pakistan finds itself well into its third COVID-19 wave, with cases and the positivity ratio both skyrocketing, students are also concerned about the safety of in-person exams. They brought into question the sanity behind the decision to conduct in-person exams during a pandemic.

Students also spoke about how difficult it is to learn during online classes. The availability of online resources to aid learning might make one believe in the realisation of a technological utopia, but that is far from the case. Students and teachers have been struggling to use the platforms effectively.

Students, in their tweets, have been making appeals to Mahmood to review the government's policies on examinations, and to Cambridge International to review its global policy and make it more considerate and fair.

Some felt comedy was a better instrument for their cause.

Last year students found themselves in an awkward situation with regards to the CAIE exams. As Pakistan battled its lockdown and fearful encounters with Covid-19, students spoke about the irrationality of conducting examinations. They took to the internet and wrote to their "king" Mahmood in the hundreds of thousands, inspiring him to petition the CAIE to cancel the May-June 2020 session in Pakistan.

On the government of Pakistan's recommendation, at the 11th hour, Cambridge International decided to cancel the session in the country. However, that led to its own series of unfortunate events.

Students hope to achieve the same feat this year. With the pandemic looming large, heartbreaking stories are emerging from across the country, and an exceptionally uneven distribution of education resources has been highlighted. It is ruthless to expect students to be able to appear for exams as in normal times, and to perform as in normal times.

Perhaps it is time we review the way we impart education and question the legitimacy of testing students' in exams. It is in times of great uncertainty that truly revolutionary innovations are born.