EducationVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 21

High achievers’ ordeal

Faleha Farhad* is really worried about her academic and professional future these days, and so are her parents. Enthusiastically supported and pursued by her parents, the 18-year-old had been planning and making efforts in the sole direction of getting an admission to a public sector medical college for the last two years, after she got exceptionally good marks in her secondary school certificate (SSC) examinations. She was offered a 100% scholarship for her two-year class, F.Sc. Pre-Medical, by a famous private school/college system of Lahore, bringing a great financial relief to her parents.

The proud parents would tell almost every relative and family friend that their daughter had secured more than 97% marks in her matriculation examination and that she was going to become a doctor in future. An obedient and intelligent Faleha had also made up her mind, and she made an all-out effort to make her parents’ dream come true. In all her monthly and term exams in first year, she performed very well, and reassured her parents every time that she was well on her target.

However, things stopped moving smoothly with the abrupt outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the country, like almost all parts of the world, in March 2020. A rigorous test session was under way for first and second year students at her college those days, and the Inter board authorities had announced conducting F.Sc. first year exams after two months, in May 2020.

After months of closure of all campuses, and uncertainty and confusion prevailing all around about the exact date of resumption of academic activities, the federal education ministry announced that students of various classes, including first year, had been promoted to the next classes. The news brought great joy to a large majority of students, but not for Faleha and others, who had been burning the midnight oil to achieve their targets. She believed merit suffered the most when all students were promoted to the next classes without exams. She also believed that the act was going to impact her future plans as well, though she was not clear “how”.

Second year classes also remained disturbed throughout the year. Though her college administration had made sufficient arrangements for completion of their course through on-campus and online classes, yet there were a number of educational institutions in the public and private sector, which failed to accomplish their tasks. Faleha and her group members, almost all target-oriented, dedicated and hard working students, knew it well that the situation was good for them at all. When a decision about conduct of exams would be made by the education authorities, the state of the majority student groups would be taken into account. There was total chaos and confusion among all students, those completing their syllabus by going an extra mile, and also those not attending even online classes to know what was written in their textbooks.

The campuses remained closed most of the time amidst the second and third waves of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the country. Various announcements were made by the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC) in May 2020 about opening of campuses and conduct of exams. The NCOC is a federal government body, formed especially to make a strategy to deal with the deadly virus and make crucial decisions about various sectors from time to time. Faleha’s college administration’s decision to conduct pre-board exams in the first week of June 2020 created a hope among serious students that the exercise would follow board exams.

However, the hope proved short-lived when in the middle of the first pre-board paper of Urdu compulsory in Faleha’s college, the NCOC decided that Matric and F.Sc. students would be tested only for science (elective) subjects this year. The announcement made by Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood on June 2, 2021 reached every school and college within minutes through electronic and social media that board exams would be held only for elective subjects. Even the Urdu paper in progress in Faleha’s class was stopped midway, as a majority of students had refused to continue the paper after the announcement. Again, confusion and uncertainty gripped students, not believing anything, what was going to happen about their exams now.

The state of uncertainty among the students was not without a reason. The date for the conduct of their exams had been changed many times during the past three, four months, sometimes officially and sometimes by social media rumour-mongers. According to the latest announcement, made by the education minister himself, board exams for students of matriculation and Intermediate would be held after July 10, only for elective subjects.

The minister also accommodated the majority of students with the announcement that the syllabus had been reduced by 40 per cent, though the facility failed to impress Faleha Farhad and students like her, who had completed the entire syllabus and were ready for a full-fledged examination. The minister told the media that the overall curriculum and nature of assessments had been modified keeping the challenges in mind. The minister explained, “The marks percentage taken by students in elective subjects will also be proportionately allocated to subjects in which exams are not being conducted.”

Prof. Tahir Mahmood Shaikh* admits that reservations of students, like Faleha, about the nature of assessments designed for the current year are genuine. A biology teacher at a government college in Lahore, Prof. Shaikh tells Cutting Edge that the exams would create more problems for a majority of students instead of facilitating them. As the marks percentage secured by students in the elective subjects would be proportionately allocated to subjects in which exams are not being held, even a single mark would count a lot. For example, if a student gets 80 out of 85 marks, which are generally considered good marks, when the percentage would be allocated proportionately to compulsory subjects and also to first year exams, it would lower the student’s percentage beyond their imagination.

The second major objection the F.Sc. part-II students are raising is a change in the syllabus and methodology for the MDCAT (Medical & Dental College Admission Test). Earlier, the PMDC (Pakistan Medical and Dental Council) had been conducting the test for students’ admission to medical and dental colleges in Punjab. However, it was dissolved last year in April and reconstituted as the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC), which would conduct the test for admission to public sector medical and dental colleges this year. But the new body has changed the test scheme, by increasing percentage marks of some subjects and decreasing others.

Under the new division of marks, announced by the PMC, biology marks have been reduced from 80 to 68, physics and chemistry marks increased from 40 to 56, and a new test titled ‘Logical Reasoning’ has been made part of the test carrying 10 marks. Faleha wonders what is the logic of changing the marks division this year when the students are already facing uncertainty and confusion about their exams and admission to professional colleges. She believes that continuing the previous MDCAT system for at least one more year would provide much-needed relief to the F.Sc. pre-medical students, who are hard-pressed by confusion and uncertainty prevailing all around in the education sector.

Medical & Dental College Admission Test Medical & Dental College Admission Test *. Names partially changed to protect privacy