Uncertainty worsens: Graduating in the time of pandemic

July 4, 2021 | 08:28 pm PT
Le Van Hien Teacher
"Teacher, my house has just been placed under lockdown," N. texted me at nearly midnight last Friday.

There are just a few more days to go for the deciding exam that will culminate 12 years of studies, and N. had been preparing hard for it. But then one of her neighbors tested positive for Covid-19, and local health authorities came and locked down the area.

N. is a good and very hard-working student in a study group in Thu Duc City that I teach and help prepare for the high school graduation exam.

To pursue her dream of getting into the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, she completely stopped leisure activities and dedicated all her time to studying. I could sense her enormous determination. She participates in all online classes without fail besides also working by herself at home. There have even been times when she stayed up all night to finish her homework or practice tests.

The road ahead for N. and my other students will certainly have many bumps as the pandemic has been spreading far and wide at schools and has now reached their homes.

According to the Ministry of Education and Training, the national high school exams will be organized in two phases, the first on July 7 and 8 and the second later for students who came into contact with Covid patients or others who did, and for students living in areas that are locked down.

N. will have to take the second phase.

"I'm very worried, I'm ready to take the exams but I am not allowed to, and I don't know when the second phase will be held," she said.

Though we were speaking on the phone, I could feel she was on edge knowing in just over a week her friends would be done with the exams.

"Just think of it as you having more time to revise, to perform better," I have encouraged my students.

"This is an unexpected situation due to the pandemic spreading across the whole country. So we'll share the burden together."

However, I am also concerned. It is difficult not to be when Ho Chi Minh City is still discovering hundreds of new Covid cases every day, and new lockdown areas are mushrooming.

Just a few dozen meters from my house, an area has just been locked down. I just hope my house is spared so that I can supervise the exams.

Our school has a number of F0 [patients], F1 and F2 [people who came into contact with patients or others who did] students who are under quarantine and will not be able to write the exams in the first phase.

We do not know how many more cases there will be by the exam date, but I and my fellow teachers are helping students prepare as if everyone will be able to take the exams, and trying not to show our concern so as not to spread negative emotions.

"It feels bad seeing my child study for a whole year but unable to take the exams," one parent told me.

Some others had concerns about the exams themselves amid the pandemic, asking: "What if something happens? Maybe you could ask the school to delay it."

This mentality will, in my opinion, affect students’ psyche.

Students line up to test for the novel coronavirus in HCMC to prepare for their high school national exams, July 3, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Students line up to test for the novel coronavirus in HCMC to prepare for their high school national exams, July 3, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

This is the second time an outbreak is occurring just as 12th graders are about to take the high school graduation exams. Last year students in certain provinces could not take the exams, and the education ministry organized another round of exams for them nearly a month later.

Regardless of how examinations are held in the Covid era, it seems we are struggling. In fact, for the past few years experts have been suggesting that the high school graduation exams should be scrapped.

Though they are one of the most important exams in a student’s life, there still seem to be no standard procedures for holding them, and they keep changing every year for various reasons, forcing parents, students and teachers alike to wait tensely.

In my opinion, standard procedures should include projections of pandemics such as the current one. And in such a scenario, we could consider other options such as holding the exams online, postponing them in some places and scrapping them altogether and letting students graduate based on their school performance.

After many years of watching students take examinations, I know that whenever they feel uneasy due to psychological issues, their results are affected.

Early in June HCMC decided to postpone the high school entrance exams just days before they were scheduled to begin. This made my 12th grade students uneasy since their own exams were to be held just over a week later and they are concerned about such a sudden delay.

Plans for holding the first phase of the exams are still in place, but there is huge uncertainty over who will take part in it and who in the second phase.

If the pandemic situation continues to worsen, there will be no peace of mind for students, teachers and parents, and so I hope authorities announce plans for organizing the exam as soon as possible.

A survey on the timing of the exams my school, a high school in Binh Thanh District, did, only 24 percent of parents said they are fine with their children taking part in the first phase. More than 45 percent said they "feel uneasy but would still agree to let their children take part" and over 31 percent said they "feel uneasy and would not agree."

Surveys at 20 public high schools across the city came up with similar results: More than half the parents polled "feel uneasy but would agree" or "feel uneasy and would not agree." In private schools, 60-70 percent of parents "would not agree."

If the city chooses to delay the exams for its nearly 89,000 students, I believe many parents will endorse the decision. Then all the students would be able to take the exams at the same time, which is psychologically important for them.

And, importantly, delaying the exams will also help fight the pandemic, relieving the pressure on the strained healthcare system.

I also believe that taking exams online is not a bad option. A friend of mine in the U.S. said they had been studying and taking exams completely online for the past year and a half. Candidates stay at home with examination software pre-downloaded on their computer, a camera and a microphone, and comply with online examination regulations.

I hope one day, with the wide variety of software available, Vietnam can hold online exams fairly and effectively.

Simplifying the exams will save trillions of dong for the government and work. But the greater gain is that students, the education system and society will feel less insecure about studies.

*Le Van Hien is a high school teacher in HCMC. The opinions expressed are his own.

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