Pakistan begins Cambridge exams despite COVID-19 spike

Pakistan commenced physical examinations for Cambridge O and A Levels despite the surge of coronavirus cases. Image Credit: Photo courtesy of Karachi administration

Islamabad: Pakistan on Monday commenced physical examinations for Cambridge O and A Levels despite the surge of coronavirus infections and ignoring protests from students over health concerns.

Pakistani officials assured 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,” Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood 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.

Decision criticized

The decision by the Pakistan government to hold the exams during the deadly third wave of the coronavirus outbreak in the country faced severe criticism from students and parents who demanded to postpone or cancel the tests due to the health emergency.

Students voiced concerns that the presence of a large number of people inside one hall could expose them to the virus, making them carriers who could infect their family back home. “I am more worried about my family. What if I become a virus carrier and put their lives in danger? It is a dangerous precedent that the government won’t cancel exams in the midst of a global pandemic” said a worried student Aleena Qamar. Some students have also complained about the disruption caused by the pandemic affecting the learning process as students constantly switched to online and offline classes.

The students of O and A levels also requested Prime Minister Imran Khan to cancel the Cambridge Assessment International Education examination after four high courts across the country turned down their petitions to cancel physical examinations.

Amid safety concerns, the education minister explained that the students and parents who are still not comfortable can defer and switch to October and November exams without any extra charge. In an April 25 statement, Cambridge International said that it is holding exams in countries where the government allowed and has offered various support options for schools and students through the pandemic.

Third wave

Pakistan government refused to delay exams despite the closure of schools in all regions where the virus positivity rate is beyond 5 per cent. The decision to hold exams astonishingly comes at a time when the country is averaging 5000 cases per day for the last two weeks.

Pakistani health officials have also warned of nationwide lockdown if the COVID-19 situation does not improve this week. Pakistan on Monday reported 70 deaths from the virus and 4,825 new cases in the past 24 hours.