Exams cancellation in 2021: what choice for countries?



Published 2021-04-29 09:37:08
Photo by Monstera from Pexels

The pandemic in 2020 was unexpected, affecting social life around the world, and the school year was cut short for millions of students. Unfortunately 2021 has not been much different so far. After months of online classes, decisions about final exams had to be taken, and each country found different ways to manage the situation.

The difficulty to grade students without any official exam

Countries around the world are dealing with the second or third wave of the pandemic, and the speed of vaccination is still proving to be less than the widespread of COVID-19. Thus, last year’s cancellation or postponement of exams is likely to continue throughout 2021. However, the picture about school exams being cancelled or postponed varies all over the world. According to a report by newseu.cgtn.com, the entire UK has confirmed that this year's A-level and GCSE exams have been cancelled. Apart from this, tests normally taken by students leaving primary school have also been cancelled.

Scotland and England's approaches sparked criticism, after both countries cancelled exams and calculated final grades by using an algorithm combining students' ranking and schools' results in previous years. This algorithm proved to cause much uproar, so both countries decided eventually to use teacher-assessed grades instead.

A new grading system for 2021

According to dfemedia blog, in summer 2021, British teachers will judge the standard that a student is working at, based on a range of evidence produced by that student over their course of study, and covering only the content they have been taught. Teachers will make the initial judgements and they will then be subject to internal quality assurance within the school/college, and grades will be signed off by the head of department and head of centre – usually the head teacher or principal - before they are submitted to exam boards.

In simple terms, a GCSE student who is performing consistently at a grade 6 standard, should be awarded a grade 6. It should be no harder or easier to achieve a particular grade than it is in a normal year when examinations take place.

The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and France also cancelled final exams, with students receiving their exam grades based on their previous results during the year and will have the opportunity to retake the exam in case of failure.

Several other countries have also postponed, cancelled or found another way to grade students in the absence of final exams. Italy approved a new budget law which will make way for the secondary schools to make sure final exams are conducted following strict regulations. End-of-school exams will be held in person in June and, similarly to last year, students will only undergo the oral exam, while the two written tests, which are part of the traditional Italian maturità, are likely to be cancelled. In Italy, students have been allowed to go back to school on January 7, from primary school to high school, where 50 to 75 percent of the student population must be granted the right to attend lessons in the classroom.

How is Europe going to handle end of school exams this year	- Credit: cgtn.com

Some countries are also set to conduct the written tests under strict safety guidelines. In Germany, Hungary and Austria exams are held under specific restrictions, sometimes under a different, simplified, format compared with the traditional one.

In Romania education authorities have announced that the national exams are to take place on the planned dates, with physical presence and topics that must be adapted to what was taught and what the student assimilated.

"Under no circumstances did the cancellation or even postponement of the national exams result in any of our discussions. National exams must take place on planned dates, with a physical presence and topics that will have to be adapted to what was taught and what the student assimilated. We know what was taught from the reports, and what the student assimilated we will be able to know after a personalized evaluation. Because there are big discrepancies that we need to recognize, assume, and see what we can do better to reduce losses. Nobody claims that we will be able to compensate absolutely all the losses, it is important to compensate as much as possible", declared the Romanian Minister of Education.

In the meantime, The Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy of one of the best Romanian universities (UBB), has launched the REThink Emotions platform, intended to promote the emotional health of children and adolescents. The platform includes the REThink therapeutic video game, unique internationally through its focus, the incorporation of scientifically validated protocols and its documented effects. The game offers children the opportunity to train their emotions regulation skills in a fun way and is available online for access by children and adolescents aged 8 to 16 across the country, based on research projects conducted by DATA Lab.

India to maintain exams despite the massive Covid surge

In India, where the total number of Covid19 cases is close to 18 million, social media is full of students demanding the cancellation or postponement of the board examinations like CBSE exams. Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed students in an online event, saying they sometimes become over conscious regarding exams. He advised:

"Free time should be valued as without it life will be like a robot. One values free time more when it is earned. More importantly, we should be careful about avoiding things during the free time that have the danger of eating away all the time. These things will leave you exhausted instead of refreshed. Free time is the best opportunity to learn new skills. Free time should be used in the activities which bring out the uniqueness of an individual."

"The fear is mainly due to the atmosphere that has made examination be all and end all of life, which makes students over conscious. Life is very long and these are just a stage of life. Parents, teachers and peers should not put pressure on students. Exams should be treated as merely a good occasion to test oneself and not be turned into a question of life and death." said the Prime Minister, quoted by the Hindustan Times.

While acknowledging that one cannot be good in everything, Modi also asked students to not run away from any subject even if they find it difficult, and cited his own example of taking up more complex work in the morning when he feels fresh, leaving easier parts to later in the day.

However, that did not have the effect to calm-down the protest and thousands of petitions have been signed to get the exams cancelled. One of the users on Twitter wrote:

"Mexico - 1300 cases - exams cancelled, Saudi Arabia - 541 cases - exams cancelled, India - 93000 cases - exams to be held as scheduled."

Whether one option or the other has been chosen, online exams are becoming a necessity. There are challenging aspects of conducting remote exams and one of them is the risk of students using the internet or other resources to assist them. However, there are also several arguments like the reduction of paper use and the time gained for organisation, that suggest that online exams might remain a key feature in education even after the pandemic.


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Author: Oana Tamas
I am passionate about life. Nature, people, art and everything that is making its magic on this beautiful planet, is worth our attention. I believe that communication is the key of life and wellbeing.
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