Back to exams: Blunder and complexity in Egypt

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Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Education announced the schedule of the first semester and the details of exams in the second semester. Since then, primary education students and their family have lived in a complete mess. 

Rather than reassuring students and their families, the announcement caused panic, because of its complex and confusing details.

Several ambiguous systems 

On December 31, after many calls on the government, it decided to suspend attendance in schools and universities and resume studying online, in addition to postponing exams of the first semester to be held after the end of the mid-year holiday out of fear of the spread of coronavirus as it was within the second wave of the pandemic at that time when the deaths and infection numbers spiked.

After it was planned that the mid-year holiday would not exceed two weeks, it extended to a month and a half while the government promised to hold the first semester’s exams after the vacation ends and before the beginning of the second semester to evaluate the students fairly. Then, students and their families waited on tenterhooks to know the date of the first semester exam and the details of the second semester classes and exams.

On February 14, the Minister of Education announced the awaited details in a press conference. But, instead of clearing ambiguity, he increased the complexity as he announced a new exam system that is completely different and varies among different phases. The minister announced that the students in kindergarten to third grade won’t be tested, while the fourth grade to the eighth grade will start their exams on Saturday, February 27. It will be a comprehensive exam that includes all the subjects in one day while the secondary grades one and two will be online exams inside schools.

Also, it has been decided not to hold mid-year exams for the preparatory and secondary certificates – they will be held by the end of the school year instead. This is for the basic materials. As for the materials not added to the total and the identity materials for international schools, the minister announced that they will be held at the end of the school year.

Regarding the second semester, the government decided on the return of optional attendance from March 10, besides activating extra classes inside schools. The government gave the students’ guardians the right to choose to return their children to the school by submitting an official request to the educational administration, and instead of second semester’s exams for the fourth grade up to the eighth grade, it has been decided for the exams to be held as paper exams inside the schools by the end of every month from March to May.

Also, it has been decided to cancel the second semester’s exam for the secondary grades one and two, and hold electronic exams at home by the end of every month from March to May. It was also decided to conduct an electronic exam for the third year of high school in April at home.

Accumulating shocks

The announced details have severely confused not only the Egyptian students and families but also many teachers and workers at the Ministry of Education. A flood of questions, criticism, and denunciations has blown up on social media, then senior officials of the Ministry of Education and the government talked to the media to explain these decisions and the purpose behind them.

However, nobody understood how a “complied exam for all the subjects” could be conducted in one day for the students from the fourth to the eighth grades. How can students, who are accustomed to taking one subject exam and taking a day or two breaks before the second subject, take the exam for all subjects in one day in one paper? How could their families get them ready for such an exam? The strange thing is that there is no pass or fail in the first semester, while the final results shall be determined after adding the marks of the second semester. 

In the press conference, the minister limited his speech on the electronic exams for the secondary grades 1 and 2 inside the schools, and ignored thousands of students who haven’t received any tablets since the beginning of the school year. Then the minister returned to say that they would be examined “on paper.” Isn’t this discrimination among students which creates a mixed evaluation system for the same grade students?

The government decided that the home-schooling students and the failing students in high school will be examined online under the new evaluation system, despite the fact that the majority of these students haven’t been examined online before, and don’t even have tablets.

Also, it was a strange thing that the minister returned a few days after the conference and changed his decision concerning the preparatory certificate and announced that it will be also a compiled exam for all the subjects (multidisciplinary) in the subjects of the first semester, and they will attend one day inside the school, while the exam results will be passed or not passed. And the marks of the first semester won’t be added to the total marks by the end of the school year.