Thanaweya Amma, or grade 12 final exams, has always been a nightmare for Egyptian households. Students are admitted to university faculties according to the scores they receive. However, Thanaweya Amma students, as well as their families and officials in the Ministry of Education, have more to worry about this year.
Because the curve of the coronavirus is still surging upwards and the number of those infected with the disease is inching close to 50,000, there have been calls by parents and students to cancel this year’s exams and replace them with projects or online exams. However, Minister of Education Tarek Shawki refused to call off the tests, saying they will start from 21 June and end 19 July, at the same time reassuring parents, students and staff about their safety.
On 15 June, Shawki conducted a video conference with senior officials at educational directorates across the country to check on precautionary measures being taken to help guarantee students’ safety. The measures include reducing the number of students in classrooms to 14 from 22 and keeping students two metres apart. The decision led to increasing the number of exam classrooms to 56,591 for Egypt’s almost 700,000 Thanaweya Amma students. The exam schedule has also been changed to start at 10am so as to give students the chance to arrive two hours early for medical check-ups.
“Only students who do not show any symptoms of Covid-19 will be allowed to take exams. Classrooms will be disinfected twice, before and after the exams,” Shawki said.
Students will have their temperature taken and will wear personal protection gear before entering the school buildings, the minister said. Before entering the schools, students will have to pass through a sterilisation cell in order to guarantee their safety. “The ministry will distribute 16,575 temperature measuring devices and 33 million face masks for students and staff members, seven million gloves for invigilators and teachers, along with 33 million plastic shoe covers,” Shawki said during the video conference.
An ambulance with a doctor will be posted in front of every school.
Reda Hegazi, deputy minister of education, told Al-Ahram Weekly the measures will also be applied to exam supervisors and school staff present at the exams or during the grading of the exam papers. “A central operations room will be created at the ministry and education directorates nationwide to follow up,” Hegazi said.
In an attempt to reduce the risks, the minister of education decided not to hold exams for subjects that are not included in the final grades: religion, economics, statistics and civil studies. “Thanaweya Amma students will have to collect booklets with questions on these subjects from their schools and return them later with the answers, according to a schedule set by the ministry,” Hegazi said.
Regarding international education students, the ministry will exempt them from their Arabic, religion and civil studies exams. “Students of international education will collect from their schools a booklet for each subject to answer questions at home. These three subjects are not essential for international education, as they only need to pass them. It does not affect their final grades,” Hegazi said.
Yet, many parents and students are worried. Dalia Darwish, a TV anchor, says she is thankful that her daughter will not have to sit for the Thanaweya Amma exams because she is studying the equivalent American Diploma. “I am so grateful and reassured because my daughter will need only to pick up the booklets for the required subjects and will answer them at home. Even if she fails them, this will not affect her joining university next year,” said Darwish, adding that though the ministry’s precautionary measures are comforting, “nobody knows what could happen during the exams.”
Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, a banker and a father of a Thanaweya Amma student, raised another point: this year is extraordinary as schools have closed down due to the spread of COVID-19, private teaching centres have been closed and students have been unable to learn properly whether at schools or at the centres. “It is so unfair to force them to sit for their finals in such circumstances. Therefore, the government should show some fairness when determining the grades needed to enter universities and faculties,” Abdel-Hamid said.
According to another mother, the majority parents of Thanaweya Amma students are sceptical about the ministry’s precautionary measures. “Theoretically, they seem perfect, but no one knows what will happen when they are actually applied,” she said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly