With over four months of schools being closed, the looming uncertainty regarding public exams is weighing down on students and their families. The authorities are still yet to make a final decision when these exams can be held. The challenge in front of the authorities is whether to cut short syllabuses and reduce exam schedules or lengthen the academic year. Any decision will have long term implications on the future of these students, and therefore, have to be made based on a well thought out strategy.
More than one million students are expected to take this year's HSC and its equivalent exams, while around three million are supposed to take the PEC and two million, the JSC exams. Another two million are scheduled to take the SSC and equivalent exams.
It is disappointing that the education board has not been able to formulate a definitive plan regarding such important exams. The statement that it was planning to hold the HSC and equivalent exams 15 days after a return to normalcy is far too vague and not very reassuring for students or their guardians. The board has said it is thinking of holding the HSC within a month, instead of the usual one and half months, while keeping the syllabus the same. Are they taking into account the problems that the students will face, through no fault of their own, in being adequately prepared for these exams after such a long gap in classes? Many students also rely heavily on extra tutoring, which they could not avail due to the Covid-19 situation. How will they fare if exams are suddenly announced?
In addition to all this, the education board must also be sensitive to the mental stress these children are going through and try to alleviate their anxieties regarding the board exams. It is important for the education ministry and its bodies to take the advice of education experts who have been voicing their concerns and offering recommendations regarding how to address the education gap created by the crisis. The Bangladesh Examination Development Unit has sent a set of proposals to the Dhaka education board, which includes cutting the syllabus and holding exams on 50 marks with MCQ questions if schools do not reopen by October.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to tell when schools can be re-opened or exams can be organised as there continues to be a high rate of Covid-19 infections, especially in the cities.
While there is little the education authorities can do about the unpredictability of the virus, what they can do is be ready with a reasonable, practical plan regarding public examinations. We hope the education board will take decisions regarding these exams keeping in mind the mental stress students have gone through during this period, and the stress they are still experiencing, as their future hangs in the balance. Innovative approaches with expert advice are required to face the challenges of the lapse in education. Exams have to be designed and held with the realities of the consequences of the pandemic in mind.