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Testing times
Published in Ahram Online on 02 - 06 - 2020

Minister of Education Tarek Shawki has announced that 16,000 thermometers, 34 million face masks, 6.5 million pairs of gloves and 6,000 bottles of hand sanitiser have already been distributed to schools where a total of 650,000 students are due to begin sitting their Thanaweya Amma exams on 21 June. Before the exams begin examination halls will have been sterilised twice, once in the very early morning of exam day, and then again, 30 minutes before students begin arriving. Two ambulances will be stationed in front of each school for emergencies, and two rooms in the schools designated as exam centres will be set aside to quarantine students showing coronavirus symptoms until they can be taken to the hospital.
In a press statement Shawki said students sitting the Thanaweya Amma, the general secondary education certificate that is necessary to enter university, will have to arrive an hour before exams begin so invigilators can measure their temperature before they are allowed on school premises.
“Students will only be allowed in with a face mask, and gloves. Parents will not be allowed to gather in front of the schools gate,” said Shawki.
When students arrive at school premises they will have to queue, two metres apart, while their temperature is measured. Ministry of Education Spokesman Mahmoud Hassouna told Al-Ahram Weekly that invigilators will also ensure students have sterilised their hands before entering the examination hall, and they are wearing their face mask and gloves.
“Each examination hall will contain 14 students. They will sit at individual desks spaced two metres apart,” said Hassouna.
Should a student display Covid-19 symptoms, either on arrival or during the course of the exam, an ambulance will transfer them to a specialised hospital.
“The cost of sterilising exam halls in schools across the country for a month, and buying the necessary preventive supplies, will cost LE950 million,” said Hassouna.
Mona Zaki, the mother of a Thanaweya Amma student, is not convinced by the precautions that have been announced. She would much rather students were allowed to take their exams online, or submit a research project in lieu.
“What would happen if students took their exams online? It is an exceptional year, so let the exams be exceptional too,” says Zaki, who questions whether the precautionary measures offer any real protection against the virus.
Shawki said students had been given the option to postpone their exams until next year should their parents wish to do so, but that exams this year must go ahead as planned to minimise the risk of cheating.
Thanaweya Amma student Maram Khalifa believes there is little risk in holding the exams.
“Parents worry too much. There is no need to be concerned as long as everyone wears face masks and gloves and the examination halls are sterilised twice a day,” she said.
Shawki said the Ministry of Education is discussing possible scenarios for the new academic year, due to start in September. It is essential to plan ahead, he said, given that national and international health officials expect the coronavirus crisis to continue for several months.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Council for Universities (SCU), headed by Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar, met to discuss the precautionary measure that should be adopted to protect students who are due to begin sitting their finals on 1 July. None final year students have either already taken their exams online, or handed in a project in lieu of the exams.
Ministry of Higher Education Spokesman Mohamed Al-Tayeb said SCU members had agreed to adopt precautionary measures similar to those being taken in schools. Students will be required to wear face masks and their temperature will be measured before they enter university premises.
Gatherings of students after the exams will be banned and social distancing rules will apply inside examination halls which will be sterilised daily. Each faculty must dedicate spaces to quarantining students who display COVID-19 symptoms, and ambulances will be stationed outside university premises to convey suspected cases to health facilities.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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