By Rahat Bashir
In March 2021, the students of O and A Level started the Twitter trend with the hashtag #cancelcieexams2021 to draw the attention of Prime Minister Imran Khan and federal education minister Shafqat Mehmood to reconsider their decision on holding the Cambridge Assessed International Examination (CAIE) series despite the rising Covid-19 cases, when the neighboring countries had already cancelled exams.
Some took the matter to the Sindh High Court (SHC), Lahore High Court (LHC), and Islamabad High Court (IHC), where the cases were dismissed by the respective courts. With the national positivity rate exceeding 10 percent by the end of April 2021, the O and AS Level exams were cancelled whereas the A/A2 Level exam series got the authorities nod, but the students were given the option of withdrawing to the October/November 2021 series.
Later in May 2021, it was announced by Shafqat Mehmood that a special series will be held for O-level students from July 26 to August 6 to facilitate students to begin their next grade in September. Meanwhile, the students appearing for locally held board exams initiated a similar movement of #CancelExamsSaveStudents highlighting their plea to cancel the exams across Pakistan.
Alongside, a similar hashtag was being used i.e #promoteallPakstudents indicating that the students are demanding to be promoted to the next grade without examination. Some students also pointed out that since the academic term was held online, the government should follow the same procedure for examinations.
The ministry considered the unprecedented circumstances that the students had faced over the last year, and released a new policy over examinations this year.
The students of Grade 9th and 10th will be examined on their elective subjects and mathematics, whereas students of Grade 11 and 12 will have to give examinations of elective subjects only. The staff responsible for conducting examinations were prioritized for the vaccination.
According to the tweet by the Education Minister, “Government has decided to give priority to teachers in vaccination. The target is that all teachers, especially those conducting exams, should have complete vaccination”.
While some students were satisfied with the policy, others compared Pakistan’s policy with India’s where the examinations have been cancelled.
There have been small-scale protests across different cities in Pakistan, but the Islamabad protest gained momentum with over 600 students marching towards National Press Club on 30th May 2021, which ended when the police resorted to tear gas shelling to dismiss the protestors. According to the article by Dawn Newspaper, “The protesting students were demanding that their final exams should be held online. They chanted slogans against the government, the federal minister for education, and other officers of the education department.”
Some celebrities also tweeted their opinion through their social media, including the renowned singer Ali Zafar.
Students took to social networking platforms to express their opinions about how they feel about the recent education policy.
With the recent Covid-19 statistics showing a low positivity rate, the exams will now be conducted from the 10th of July. While the minister agreed that the entire syllabus on local boards had not been completed due to the closure of schools, the NCOC also directed schools to provide enough time for students to complete their syllabus.
On 9th June 2021, according to Tribune.pk “25 schoolchildren reportedly fainted in the Bhara Kahu area on Wednesday”. It further reports that “In light of this, the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) has reduced the school timings from 7 am to 11 am, however, the parents have demanded the announcement of summer vacations and the resumption of online classes by promoting the students without holding examinations.”
This created an uproar on social media when the fainted pictures of students bleeding from their nose due to heat and load shedding were released on social media.
The Sindh Education Board has released the examination timetable and given the breakdown of how exams will be conducted in a recent tweet on 10th July by Senator Saeed Ghani.
For now, the exams are expected to occur on their scheduled dates and students are preparing for exams in full zest and zeal.
Education authorities should take relevant stakeholders including students and parents on board before making any policy decision as the future of students depends on the decision our policymakers are taking today. The answer to ‘exams or no exams’ is crystal clear and instead of wasting time on the roads, the students must prepare for the exams. Pakistan education authorities need to take decisions keeping in view the best possible solutions to the challenges our students are facing today.