Intermediate exams to be held after June 15, says education minister

The intermediate examinations in Pakistan would be held after June 15, announced Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood announced Tuesday.

During a talk show on a news network, the education minister expressed his belief that the Covid-19 situation was improving in the country due to vaccinations and other steps taken by the government. “I am very hopeful,” he added.

While A-2 examinations were being held across the country, the minister acknowledged that several people had voiced their demands to be awarded school assessed grades.

“If examinations do not take place then no one will study — and that is why the (O/A- level) exams — that have been postponed — will be conducted in October and November,” he said.

Last week, a day after the government commenced in-person assessments for O- and A-level students ignoring protests from students over health concerns, Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood had announced the postponement of all exams until June 15 in light of a surge in new coronavirus cases.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad after a National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) meeting at the time, Mahmood had said O- and A-level assessments had been cancelled and would now take place in the October-November cycle.

Mehmood had said from April 18, when the last meeting of the education ministry was held, until today, the number of cases — both active and daily toll — has witnessed a surge. Thereby, the government has decided to postpone all exams.

“Exams of [grades] 9, 10, 11, and 12, that were scheduled to begin at the end of May, have been further delayed,” the minister had said. “No assessments will be held until mid-June.”

“We will continue analysing [the situation] and in mid-May or in the third week of May, we will analyse the disease and a decision will be made whether to further postpone exams or allow them to take place,” he had said.

This means that if exams are started after June 15, they could go into July and some part of August as well.”

The minister had further suggested the country appears to be headed towards a complete lockdown in areas witnessing particularly high positivity ratios.

Mahmood had earlier in the day conceded there were problems with the level of compliance with Covid-19 rules outside examination centres.

“Permission to hold exams was conditional on strict SOP observance. As more reports have come in, it is obvious that outside the exam centres the compliance is poor,” he said. “This and the latest corona spread reports will be discussed in a special NCOC meeting in the afternoon.”

The government had refused to delay exams despite the closure of schools in all neighbourhoods where the transmission rate is beyond 5 per cent. The decision to hold exams comes at a time when the country is averaging 4,000 cases per day for the last two weeks.

Before the beginning of the assessments, the government had assured the protesting students that “strict implementation” of health protocols would be followed during the exams. “These are tough times, and difficult decisions have been made keeping the students’ best interest in view,” Mahmood had said.

“British Council is committed to strict implementation of SOPs [standard operating procedures] and we will monitor them closely,” he added, wishing all the students taking exams his very best.

Last year, Cambridge International had cancelled all exams that were scheduled to be held in the country in May and June at Islamabad’s request and in view of the pandemic.

However, this year, it announced it would be cancelling in-person exams in a “very small” number of countries — 10, including the United Kingdom — and would award students grades based on their teachers’ assessment, or expected grades.

Last week, the Islamabad High Court (IHC), Lahore High Court (LHC), Peshawar High Court (PHC) and Sindh High Court (SHC) had dismissed separate petitions challenging the physical presence of students in O- and A-level exams and seeking a switch to school-assessed grades.

The petitions were filed by students in each of the four high courts against the Cambridge Assessment International Education’s (CAIE) decision and the government’s approval for holding in-person exams in Pakistan.

In March, the government had closed down all educational institutions in several major cities and Islamabad initially for two weeks but later extended the duration again, after a surge in Covid-19 cases.

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