Tuesday, 3 October, 2023

Exam Management In Aftermath Of COVID-19

Kushal Pokharel

The COVID-19 pandemic has left millions of children locked inside their houses. As schools and universities are the sectors that will require extended closures and ban on group gatherings, various alternative approaches regarding students assessments have emerged across the world. Ranging from the postponement of examinations to the continuation of exams in modified format or the complete cancellation of exams have been adopted by different countries.
Out of the 3 options, annulment of exams have become the top most choice based on the gravity of the situation. Amid this scenario, Cambridge Assessment International Education has cancelled the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Examinations (IGSCE)- an international curriculum taught by more than 4,800 schools in over 150 countries. The Cambridge Assessment board has further clarified that it will work with schools to assess students using the best available evidence.
Even the highly competitive International Baccalaureate examinations have been called off and decision to award students with a diploma or a course certificate based on student’s coursework and established assessment expertise and rigour. In Pakistan, the National Coordination Committee has decided to promote students of 10th and 12th grade based on their results of 9th and 11th grades respectively.
Contrary to the dominant regional and global trend, the Education Ministry in Nepal is hell bent on conducting SEE including grade 11 and 12 exams. With looming uncertainty over the resumption of normalcy in the aftermath of COVID-19, the decision of the ministry has come under severe criticism from education experts, teachers association among other stakeholders. At a time when the students’ state of mind have been adversely affected, conducting examinations in a smooth manner is pretty challenging. In this context, experts have suggested promoting students to higher classes based on their performance in internal examinations. This will pave a way for students graduation to next level and rid them of the anxiety assoicated with a year loss and career.
While there remains high chance of students’ absenteeism in exams immediately after the crisis of this magnitude, it will equally be difficult to ensure mass safety and conduct exams in an effective manner in the aftermath of COVID-19. However, our ministry of education seems to have a different opinion. In a hurry, the education minister recently gave an indication of the admission process gaining momentum after May 7 – a decision which was immediately scrapped another day amid intense discussion in the education and health committee of the House of Representatives. In fact, the contradictory decisions of the ministry in the span of two days have created deep confusion among schools and parents. Ignoring the decision of the ministry, some private schools have expedited their admission process and collected the regular monthly fees.
Though some counter-arguments stressing on sticking to examinations of high stakes are prevalent, these arguments ought to be scrutinised under the changing circumstances in which the resumption of the regular day affairs is nowhere in the sight. The repeated occurrences of the virus even in those countries that successfully contained its spread in early days has diminished the possibilities of conducting exams anytime in immediate future. More importantly, bracing students for appearing in exams with proper preparation appear an uphill task given the increasing incidents of corona infection and casualites.
Expressing serious reservations over the decision of the ministry in haste without consulting key education stakeholders- educationists, school managers, teachers, parents among others, the committee has requested the ministry to take a wise decision without bowing to any undue pressure. Meanwhile, the matter of totally scrapping SEE emerged in the committee meeting. With the consitutional spirit requiring provice to conduct exams of grade 10, lawmakers have drawn the attention of the ministry to think about this matter and make an appropriate decision.
Equally significant for policymakers is to understand that examinations cannot be placed over students safety in any circumstances. While the board exams are not the only criterion of assesing students’ performance globally, our assessment system largely operates within the 3-hour long exams. While many other countries did not have a big problem to decide on exam cancellation, Nepal is finding it increasingly difficut due to the sole reliance on the typical annual exam system. In this sense, the crisis presents the policymakers an opportunity to revisit the exisiting assessment methods and find a more acceptable evaluation system that can measure students overall performance.
Growing dilemma among students regarding their future is indeed a matter of serious concern. It is high time policymakers clarify the doubts of students about their study and career. In consultation with schools, policymakers can find an alternative option to ensure students promotion to next grade. Any further delay in reaching an apt decision to suit the demand of the changed scenario would be detrimental to the future of thousands of students.

(Pokharel is a social science faculty and a researcher. kushalpokharel03@gmail.com)