Exams halted due to Covid surge

-Mahmood says no assessments until mid-June
-Public transport, tourism to remain suspended on Eid
-Timely issuance of guidelines for Itikaf, Jumu’atul Wida sought
-Over two million doses inoculated nationwide
-Special committee monitoring oxygen supplies
-142 more fall prey to deadly virus, 4,487 fresh cases reported

By Ajmal Khan Yousafzai

ISLAMABAD: 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 on Tuesday announced the postponement of all exams until June 15 in light of a surge in new coronavirus cases.
The update comes as the government portal registered 4,487 new infections of the coronavirus after conducting 43,981 tests, receiving back a transmission rate of 10.2 per cent. With a 2.2 per cent mortality ratio, deaths increased by 142 to 17,329.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad after a National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) meeting, Mahmood said O- and A-level assessments had been cancelled and would now take place in the October-November cycle.
Mehmood 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 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 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 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 until April 11, after a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Meanwhile, the NCOC announced to temporarily suspend public transport and tourism in a bid to strengthen efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
A communiqué issued by the Ministry of Interior announced the aforementioned services would remain suspended between May 8 and 16. Travel, both inter-provincial and inter-city, during the Eid holidays will also remain suspended however, locals of Gilgit-Baltistan would be allowed to return to their homeland. Roads leading to tourist spots will remain closed “with a special focus on Murree, Galiyat, Swat-Kalam, Sea View/beaches and northern areas”. All tourist resorts, public parks, hotels, restaurants shopping malls, and transport “in and around” the tourist points will remain closed.
The notification also called for timely issuance of health guidelines and suggestions for Itikaf, Qadr Night, Jumu’atul Wida and Eid prayers. It also called on authorities to ensure uninterrupted electricity supply during the Eidul Fitr holidays.
Moreover, Minister of State for Health Dr Faisal Sultan on Tuesday said the government was increasing the domestic production of oxygen to support the fatigued healthcare system should the coronavirus cases slip out of control.