THE decision of the 15-member committee that the education ministry set up in April on finding alternatives to conventional public examinations amidst the Covid outbreak to recommend capacity building and teacher training before holding public examinations online is welcome. The government set up the committee, headed by the chair of the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Dhaka, to find alternatives as the government had to cancel 2020 Higher Secondary Certificate and equivalent examinations, scheduled to be held in April that year, and publish the results on January 30, 2021 based on the results of Secondary School Certificate and Junior Certificate and equivalent examinations of the students. The government also had to cancel Junior School Certificate and Primary Education Completion examinations and equivalents along with all year-final examinations. While the 2021 Secondary School Certificate and equivalent examinations were meant to take place in February and the 2021 Higher Secondary Certificate and equivalent examinations were meant to take place in April, all educational institutions having so far been closed since March 17, 2020 has pushed both the examinations and candidates into uncertainty. The government, which earlier planned to take classes for 60 days for SSC candidates and for 80 days for HSC candidates, before the examinations has already tailored down the syllabuses, with aim to hold SSC examinations in June and HSC examinations in July or August.
But the plan for holding classes for 60 or 80 days before the examinations also does not appear to be forthcoming soon because of a surge in Covid infection beginning in early March 2021. Soon after Covid-19 had broken out in March 2020, the government started airing classes on Sangsad TV — secondary classes beginning on March 29 and primary classes on April 7, with some private schools and colleges catching up with the trend — to make up for the lost classes. But a government study in October 2020 showed that only 4.1 million of the total 41.8 million students, from the primary to the tertiary level, had access to online and outreach classes aired on television and radio, which almost negated government efforts in the absence of the required connectivity infrastructure. About 2.3 million students in all take SSC and HSC examinations. The committee’s plan to recommend developing the required infrastructure — providing all candidates with devices to stay connected online and an uninterrupted internet connectivity coupled with teacher training for both holding the examinations and evaluating answer scripts online — appears pragmatic. Without adequately attending to the issues, any plan to hold public examinations online, which seems to be a futile exercise when online classes have largely failed, would only sound hollow. This also brings to the fore the failure of the government in putting in place a robust digital connectivity between educational institutions and the students that could have been done if the government had adequately invested money in education over the years.
The government must, therefore, not hold public examinations without sorting out the shortcoming, as the committee plans to recommend. Any move in this regard will, otherwise, let down public examinations beyond reparation and the result of such a rash action will be more grievous for students, society and the government.
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