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Pandemic-centred exams
Published in Ahram Online on 16 - 02 - 2021

Minister of Education Tarek Shawki this week announced the details of the first and second semester exams during the Covid-19 pandemic. Regarding the first semester's final exams, Shawki said students of KG1 until grade three will not sit for any exams, according to the new educational system.
The minister pointed out in a video-conference that students from grade four to eight will sit for one comprehensive exam immediately after the vacation that would include all subjects in one paper. Grade four students, according to the ministerial decree, will take their collective exam on 28 February, whereas grade five until eight will take their collective exam respectively from 1-4 March.
Students of grades nine and 12 will sit for their finals at the end of the academic year when they will be examined on the whole curriculum. They will sit for their exams on paper on the school grounds. In normal circumstances, these same students would sit for an exam at the end of each term.
Meanwhile, grade 12 students will take their exams at schools but electronically. “Grade 12 students will take their finals at the beginning of July due to the pandemic and the ministry will not cancel any parts of their curriculum,” Shawki said.
The ministerial decree stipulated that students in grade 10 and 11 will be sitting for their exams from 27 February to 9 March. Both grades will take their exams respectively on different days in order to avoid overcrowding. The second semester in all schools will start on 10 March.
Regarding the final exams of the second semester, Shawki said students of grade four to grade eight will sit for monthly collective exams at their schools by the end of March, April and May. The average grades of these collective exams will be considered the second semester's final grade for each student. Grade 10 and 11 students will take online monthly exams in March, April and May at home.
The minister pointed out that parents who are worried about allowing their children to return to school have the option of postponing the current academic year to the next.
The new exam format had students and parents confused. Noura Ahmed, a mother of a seventh grader, believes that the minister's plans for the exams are nothing but an extra burden on families and their children. “This is catastrophic,” Ahmed said. “What if my son is not able to answer one of the questions? Does he fail the subject?” she asked. In their comprehensive exams, students will be answering one question on each subject.
Mohamed Gharib, a grade eight student, believes the new system is very difficult and unfair. “Studying all the curriculum and getting tested on it at one go is very confusing,” arguei.
Reda Hegazi, deputy to the minister of education and technical education, said students will not have to pass every single section, but have to pass the exam collectively. “There will be no grades; it's either pass or fail,” Hegazi said.
According to Hegazi, if students have been studying regularly since December when classes stopped, they will have no problem.
Mohamed Ibrahim, an Arabic teacher, said students should not worry because the exam samples he had seen were “easy”. Ibrahim said the minister had to resort to this measure as parents and students misused the research system that was adopted last year. According to Ibrahim, students were supposed to learn how to conduct research and instead they paid money to buy someone to do it for them.
Although Ibrahim believes that this year's exam system is acceptable, he said its problem was that students lacked training on it. Students should be trained on this collective exam in order to be able to pass it, Ibrahim said.
Noha Sami, an accountant whose daughter is in grade 11, said she was upset with the minister's decree because the girl will have to go to school for several days in order to take her exams, thus increasing the risk of getting Covid-19. “Younger students will sit for their exams for only one day in all subjects. Why didn't the minister apply the same system to grades 10 and 11? Are our kids not as important as the young ones,” Sami asked.
Hegazi insisted that all safety and precautionary measures will be adopted by schools for grades 10 and 11 students and that there was no need for concern. “It is difficult to set a comprehensive exam for the older students because their curriculum is very long and sophisticated. We want our students to study properly and take their exams properly to be fairly graded as the marks of those two grades is considered part of their overall grade which will enable them to join university,” Hegazi said.
The cabinet's supreme committee responsible for managing the coronavirus crisis announced on 13 February the extension of the mid-year break by a week for both schools and universities due to the pandemic. Accordingly, the vacation will end on 26 February instead of 20 February.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 February, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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