By Daniya Khalid
Coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill and everyone has experienced some measure of impact during these unprecedented times- but the question remains, how long will we be stuck in limbo, and what are the repercussions for students who until recently were preparing to take their exams and graduate?
The Current Situation
As of the 12th of April 2020, there are currently over 1.7 million cases of coronavirus or COVID-19 sufferers worldwide with the death toll standing at over 108,828. With the rapid increase on a day by day basis, anyone can easily become overwhelmed at the current state of affairs. Governments across the globe have issued guidance on self-isolation and in more serious cases such as Italy, a country-wide lockdown is now in effect. In the UK, a similar lockdown policy has been established, and people have been advised to stay in their homes unless absolutely necessary, with a warning of police incurring fines on anyone found to be ignoring these instructions.
For students, there is an additional level of stress going along with this. Many are currently studying for exams or continuing their degrees online while other students faced exams being cancelled that were needed to secure places in dream universities or even allow them to graduate. In the recent weeks, it has started to look as if this outcome is pure idealism; school leavers and soon-to-be graduates are now attempting to reach a future that only existed before the events that have transpired this month. The worry among them is understandable, especially when so many feel their prospective careers hang in the balance. At the present time, it has come to a point where students are learning alongside their educators. This alone is enough to fill any prospective high school student or graduate with a bout of scepticism regarding the handling of the situation, but the unfortunate truth is nobody has all the answers.
Exams or Exemption?
In schools across the UK, exams for GCSEs, A-Levels and International Baccalaureate have been cancelled. This has sparked varied responses from students. Some feel that they have been robbed of the chance to bring up their grades and perform in exams, while others intend to take full advantage of an extended ‘holiday’ until the next academic year. For these qualifications, a new system has been put in place in order to give students grades to enter university with. The government department Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) have decided to base these grades on current assessment work done during the course of A levels, including mock exams, bookwork, and other records of student performance such as predicted grades. Teachers will also rank candidates within each grade (i.e. from the highest scoring student to the lowest in each centre assessment grade).
Undoubtedly, current events have brought a great amount of stress upon students and their teachers, who may now have additional factors at the forefront of their minds in terms of sick relatives, finances and even their own safety on top of the exams they have been preparing for and would be sitting only weeks from now. Therefore cancelling exams entirely during a pandemic where students and staff themselves or their relatives may become ill can be seen as a conscientious decision. Alongside this, schools have started online teaching with resources such as Google Classroom and Zoom, a web conference app, being one of the most common.
It is a slightly different case for university students, who are living on an email by email basis from their respective universities. Exams have been cancelled at the University of Warwick, while Imperial, UCL and the University of Glasgow have decided to put their exams online, a move that is being considered by several other universities as well. For the majority, classes are also being moved online. There are still continuous updates surrounding all these changes made by universities as right now nothing is set in stone. As for potential graduates, there is no singular resolution in place. Various universities are choosing to assess coursework instead of final exams, while some are looking at overall performance. Every student is at the mercy of their academic and school board’s decisions, leaving it all to a waiting game and a matter of where they have chosen to study.
Studying in Self-Isolation
Under the current circumstances, it is evident that students are now at a disadvantage. Those with exams still taking place are under pressure to continue performing despite the less adequate mode of teaching. With all resources now being moved online, it is dependent on each individual student’s ability to access these and teach themselves that will decide how well they perform in exams.
So what can students do to assure they continue performing as well as before? For many, it will be through their online classes and lectures, and ultimately being creative with their own learning. With online access, a great number of YouTube videos and revision websites are available for student use, as well as taking the initiative to email teachers and determine what they should be working on.
For students that may have limited access to the internet, there is yet to be announcements from schools and universities with how to help in the UK. In America, providers themselves, such as Comcast and Cox, have begun to offer low priced packages for internet access. In Britain, broadband providers have made no moves to enact similar changes. Neither the UK or US government has made any statement on the matter of the complications with home learning when it affects future workers and some of the most vulnerable people in society. These are the students that require the greatest amount of support, and so in the spirit of keeping our community despite the situation, reaching out to those struggling in such a critical time has never been so important.
An Organised Chaos
The lack of preparation means schools are scrambling to put together learning resources and provide online classes, and it is far from smooth sailing. From GCSEs and A levels to university students, including soon-to-be graduates, students feel they are having to fight a battle just to get the chance to take the exams and obtain grades they have been working tirelessly for. Petitions for universities to shut down, reimbursing student fees and even preventing nursing students from being forced to work have all gained an overwhelming number of signatures. Students and the general public themselves have felt the need to take action to urge those in power to make the right decisions.
Exams and classes have been brought to an abrupt halt throughout the UK, US, Italy, Spain, China, and more across the world. Ultimately, it has taken a worldwide crisis to bring attention to the gaping holes in the education system. Why weren’t we prepared? It highlights the many flaws and in some cases, the hypocrisy of schools and universities that until three weeks ago, were unable to provide the extra online classes their disabled students have been seeking for years. Yet in the midst of what can only be seen as chaos, there is a possible silver lining. A hope that this time of difficulty will turn the tables and teach academic organisations to value the importance of catering to the educational needs of everyone and not merely the abled majority.
The bottom line is that this pandemic is an unprecedented situation, and despite the key concepts of fairness and equal opportunity that dominate the idea of public examinations, places of learning must learn to adapt and recalculate to maintain their standards. In the face of this unexpected health emergency, with life as we know it halted indefinitely, the world must pick itself back up and move along. As of 12th April 2020, the total number of recoveries has reached over 404,032 worldwide, evidence that progress is indeed being made in medical respects. Fatalities are the focus of our minds at present, but in the spirit of schooling from home, we must teach ourselves to look at the more detailed answer; that while loss is in abundance, there are also people making it out to the other side.
Despite the struggles educators are experiencing with newly introduced online learning, teaching has simply refused to cease. We are coping, and can be certain that in the future, the delicate balance of everyday life will make its steady way back to reality. Until then, education must make a few adjustments, sit through a blurry Skype meeting, and continue on.
Biography: Daniya Khalid is a second year student studying Biomedical Science at St. George's University London. She has an interest in Neuropharmacology and is involved in a research project investigating the relation of the endocannabinoid system in the brain and depression. She is currently an artist and blogs editor at the YSJ.
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