COVID-19: The Future of Students In A Limbo

COVID-19: The Future of Students In A Limbo

According to The United Nations, Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) over 1.3 Billion students worldwide have been negatively affected by COVID-19. Pakistan who has been in learning crisis even before the outbreak, as evidenced by high numbers of learning disparities by the underprivileged. The country is facing an educational system crisis where the students may fall years back academically in times to come. The said changes might also reflect onto the economy in addition to taking away job opportunities in their field of interests.

Around the world, the fear of coronavirus took Airlines, Public transport, stores, and markets in its wrath; the educational system was not left behind either. Schools, colleges, and universities have been shut Internationally as well as in Pakistan since February, 2020 when the number of positive COVID-19 cases came into the limelight. These are said to remain close till 15th July 2020 as per the Government’s policy. COVID-19 has jeopardized the future of students where there is uncertainty, lack of proper systems, and poor policies initiated by the Government. Some posit that the Higher Education Commission (HEC) may improve policy measures.

Primary, Secondary, and Higher Secondary Schools will promote their students without any exams as per the statement of Mr. Shafqat Mahmood, The Education Minister of Pakistan. However, the class promotion policy is not formally implemented yet. This has not only created chaos as well as put students into a dilemma who were supposed to give their Matriculation and Intermediate exams. Some Cambridge examinations are scheduled to take place from 1 June 2020 while many will be granted their expected grade. Nevertheless, they do have the option of giving Cambridge International Examinations (CIEs) in October/November 2020.

Secondary and Higher Secondary grades are considered to be high stakes examinations, which play an essential part in deciding professional careers. These grades work as a jump from one level to another or a step to decide students’ workplace in the future. Many students have been working hard lately to improve their grades while many planned to get distinctions; others intended to save a definite spot for their desired fields. For many it was an opportunity to claim a spot in prestigious universities who come from a relatively weak background. Students are in the middle of the final show, halfway through rehearsals when everything was canceled. This situation marks a question for the university entry test.

If exams are canceled or postponed beyond the stipulated date for the university entrance test, on what basis will decisions be made for allocating admissions?

Will exams be organized in traditional formats or is online testing the next step?

How will they preserve the transparency and fairness of examinations?

How will students who live in remote areas or with disabilities give their exams?

The Higher Education Commission has taken charge of Higher Education Institutions (HEI) establishing Learning Management System (LMS) and asked the universities to conduct online classes. While making said decision, a big chunk of society has been neglected. Only 35% of Pakistan’s population has access to an internet connection. While many students do not own a smartphone or live in rural areas where there is limited connectivity. A wide range of students do not own laptops or computers. By overlooking these students who have limited resources, affordability, and disabilities, the policy is engaging only a limited group of students. In times of COVID-19, where many students lack affordability of a stable internet connection, they were made to give online tests and exams which is putting restrictions on learning outcomes, transparency, and merit. In a developing country like Pakistan, there is a huge inequality in resources, supporting material, exam conditions, and content. So, are all the decisions being made for elite and affording class while a chunk is unheard or unanswered? These are some questions that require attention by the policymakers in Pakistan.

Healthcare professionals are on the front-line fighting against COVID-19 with limited equipment trying to save lives every day by endangering themselves. The future of healthcare rests on students. They have a responsibility on their shoulders pertaining to life amid another outbreak, should another epidemic or pandemic occur. Medical students who are to take their professional exams this year are under the havoc. National, as well as International board exams, are reflecting uncertainty and confusion among the students.

Final year medical students who were to be attending the wards, outpatient departments, and operation theaters are today attending the online classes designed by their respective medical schools. Typically, final year med school is where students have maximum exposure to patients, gain a strong command on their skills and perform examinations on patients. However, currently, students watch their screens every day at 10:00 AM listening to their fellow batch mates presentations. There is a high level of panic about professional examinations. With limited time and exposure how will they get strong command on their skills? How will they be scored since the exam is divided into a theoretical and practical component? Where other exams are taken online how will this branch be impacted with increasing cases in Pakistan? Will this have any major impact on their year of graduation? These are some questions that many students have in mind.

United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is a non-profit organization which has a three-step examination process. By passing the three-step exam one becomes eligible to apply for an unrestricted medical license in the united states. Where it is one of the most challenging exams in one’s medical professional career, the USMLE took the candidates on a roller coaster ride. Prometric, the for-profit organization that administers standardized test canceled all non-essential tests until May 31st, 2020 but later resumed testing on May 1st 2020. Prometric has stated that some individuals might not receive notification until 48 hours before their exam. With those that do get canceled, they might not be able to reschedule their exam for months due to backlogs. As the testing is carried considering social distancing several candidates’ exam dates have been canceled. This is only putting them through an emotional vulnerability. The step 1 exam score is one of the top factors which is used to rank the competitiveness, smartness, and academic excellence of an applicant but also decides their fate in their desired field of interest. This unprecedented time may cause a lot of candidates to score lower than their actual potential preventing them from pursuing their dream career. This will not only put them behind the time but also delay their Residency Match while many who did match are still struggling due to the limited function of International Airlines from around the globe.

Globally all the institutions are severely affected so is the department of education in Pakistan struggling further with its imperfect educational system. All educational systems around the world have taken a toll on their policies. With evolving circumstances and the undefined time of the COVID-19 pandemic it would be juvenile to say who has a better approach right now or who has been more successful. Since more difficult times are yet to hit the shore, especially predicted for Pakistan with ‘Smart Lockdown’ policy; the rising curve has only left everyone wondering what’s next? What could be worse than this?

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Post by: Javeria Inam Danish

Javeria is a final year student at a reputable medical school. she is a prominent part of Kaizen Pakistan (non-profit organisation which aims to educate the underprivileged kids in our society).
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