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Of all the things about daily life that the coronavirus has disrupted so badly, since it has made it all but impossible for even a few people to be in the same vicinity without serious risk to a lot of people's lives, perhaps the worst is the ability of students to attend schools/colleges/universities. Indeed, practically all governments are going so far as lifting restrictions on work, so the economy can function and people can earn once again, but nobody with the possible exception of Germany feels confident enough to extend the relaxation of the lockdowns to schools and colleges just yet. And the reason is pretty understandable. There's still no cure for the virus, and reopening schools risks spreading Covid-19 very rapidly among students and result in truly catastrophic consequences. Not only would that completely defeat the purpose of the reopening but, more importantly, no leader would want his/her legacy to be stained by such a huge tragedy, which naturally begs the question of what is to be done about the present academic year. You can't send children to school anytime in the near future, yet the show must go on, so what is to be done?
The Pakistani federal government, after exhaustive discussions with provinces no doubt, has proposed a rather novel idea of postponing all exams till at least the next year. No doubt they are aware (most of them being parents and grandparents themselves) that most parents would have put their foot down and refused to entertain any arguments about sending their children back to school anytime soon had the government mulled opening them just to test the waters. So the middle ground that has apparently been found is promoting students to the next class on the basis of yearlong performance and without the formality of final exams. Now, considering our education system, all this seems fine up to class VIII since there are no board exams. The grade for the term does not depend solely on the performance in the final exam. Students are instead graded on their performance throughout the year and marks of the final exam count only as a percentage of total weight in the end result. But it's an entirely different matter when examinations are held by the boards of education since 100 percent of a student's grade rides on his/her performance in the final exam.
Since Secondary (matriculation) and Higher Secondary School (Intermediate) have a two-year board exam system, the government's scheme would mean that class IX students would be promoted to class X and so will first year intermediate students shall be promoted to second year without any examination, and Matric and Intermediate results would be declared on the basis of the percentage achieved by individual students in class IX and first year. Colleges would admit students on the basis the Matriculation thus compiled and; professional colleges/universities have been asked to admit students based on their intermediate grades awarded on a similar basis. What would be the modus operandi for students of universities and professional colleges remains to be seen as reports indicates that the Higher Education Commission is seized with the issue in consultation with faculty and administrators of the higher institutes of learning. The general idea behind this approach, since schools and colleges just cannot open at this time, is to keep students from losing one year of education. That is understandable, but at the same time some thought should also be given to the validity of such results. If this approach is indeed adopted and it appears that it would, students of this academic year will be tainted for life. Institutes of higher learning aren't just degree churning mills, after all, and without proper exams the education and degrees will have little or no value forever. There's already no shortage of commercial institutes that will give a degree just upon payment, but there's only so far students can go with one of those.
There is, therefore, a need to revisit this decision and perhaps consider, just for this academic year, to revert to the old system where there was only one board exam at the school level and that was matriculation. Class IX should be promoted on the basis of school marks, like in the old system, and then students should appear in exam for all papers at the end of class X. The same approach should be implemented for intermediate classes in colleges and for degrees in universities. And for students already in the final years of schools, colleges and universities, we should consider holding these examinations in a staggered manner.
It is important to remember that the pivot point of a student's career that determines its direction is the intermediate exam, and therefore it is advisable that intermediate certificate is earned through an examination process and not handed out without an exam. Examinations have been delayed for various reasons before as well. In fact there was a time in the late sixties/early seventies when a five-year medical degree was completed in 7 years and a four-year engineering degree in six years. The anti-Ayub 1968-69 civil disturbances and the breakup of the country in 1971 provide at least two such examples. Not holding the exams at all would set a very precedent, forcing this batch of students to go through life without bona fide earned degrees as happened to a batch of students during the Ayub regime days when the three-year Bachelor degree programme was reduced to two years and degrees awarded in similar manner. In a matter as serious as the education of the nation's youth, let us adopt the right course as credible institutions of learning are not certificate- or degree-churning mills.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020