Grade 10 students this week started experimental online exams lasting two weeks. A total of 589,000 students took the exams at home following the closure of schools because of the coronavirus.
“Students nationwide have logged onto the exam’s platform via their smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops and some used their playstations,” Minister of Education and Technical Education Tarek Shawki told reporters in a video press conference.
Shawki said the aim of the exam was to test the platform and computer tablets. Students received their tablets at the beginning of the second term, on 9 February, but did not have time to practice using them or test them because the academic year was suspended on 15 March following the coronavirus. “That’s why the experimental exams will not be graded,” Shawki said.
Grade 10 students did not sit for the exams all at once but in groups in order to lessen pressure on the exam platform and to guarantee that students would be given equal opportunities, according to Reda Hegazi, deputy to the minister of education.
As part of a new education system introduced last year by Shawki, grade 10 students are studying an overhauled curriculum that places greater emphasis on understanding rather than memorising and includes an electronic exam system which depends on tablets and the Internet.
Test results are displayed immediately after the students submit their answers, said Hegazi who added exams are divided into two sections: multiple choice questions and essays. “Each student should log on to the exam platform with the exam starting as soon as students log on.”
Mher Keuhnelian, 16, in grade 10, said he did not face any difficulty while logging onto the Arabic exam platform. “It was a simple and easy process, although a few of my friends faced some technical problems.”
Keuhnelian said that because students log in at different times, a friend of his had enough time to solve the exam and pass on the answers to his friends. Moreover, Keuhnelian asked the help of his Arabic teacher to solve some of the test questions.
“There were several questions in the test especially in pre-Islamic poetry which I could not answer so I called my Arabic teacher over the phone and he helped me with it,” said Keuhnelian who believes that most students will do the same in the finals.
Mark Rimon, 16, another grade 10 student, said the exam included many questions that he couldn’t answer because they were on topics not included in the curriculum, especially in poetry. “There was a pre-Islamic poetry piece which I did not study throughout the year, and my teachers did not even mention it during the online classes. I didn’t understand what it said,” Rimon said.
Hegazi said the ministry was aware that most students will cheat from various sources. “Therefore, the ministry will take this into consideration during the final term exam. There are different measures it will adopt in an attempt to limit this. Also, teachers will put this into consideration when grading,” Hegazi said.
Ahmed Ibrahim, a Grade 10 student who sat for the Ordinary Level English exam, called the online exam a failure. “After I finished almost half the exam I refreshed the page, the system logged me out and I could not re-log in until the end of the exam,” Ibrahim said. “I don’t know what to do if this happens during the final year exams.”
Hegazi stressed that around 11,000 students have faced only minor technical problems that were solved by the ministry’s technical support teams. Students will not have these problems in the next exams, he said.
While thousands of grade 10 students are asking why their year-end assessment is not based on a project like students in other grades, Hegazi told Al-Ahram Weekly that grade 10 online exams are essential for the ministry to see whether students can use tablets since they have not been introduced to them before.
As for projects for students from grades four to nine, the ministry this week said students must prepare only one multi-disciplinary research project to move on to the following year. The student can prepare the project individually or in a group of five maximum. Submission deadline is 15 May. “A research paper should include a headline, introduction, body, results or notes of the research, references, student names and codes,” Hegazi said.
Hegazi said students who do not have easy access to the Internet can depend on textbooks or any other book related to the topic of the research project. Students are expected to submit a hard copy of their research to their school administration which will be sent to the ministry via the platform.
“The teacher’s role is to guide and help students in preparing their research whereas the ministry will be responsible for reviewing and evaluating them. The research project aims to teach students new skills such as teamwork, self-reliance, research, analysis, and linking topics together, as well as formulating ideas to further skills necessary for students,” Hegazi said.
Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar said last week there was a possibility of postponing final term exams until September or until the end of this year, stressing that there was no intention to cancel university’s second-term final exams. Mid-term exams have been annulled and their grades would be added to the finals.
“Students have no option other than to sit for the final exams to pass this academic year. There is no need to take an immediate decision for what may happen in the next few months, but the ministry has taken into account all possibilities and scenarios,” said Abdel-Ghaffar, adding that more than 85 per cent of university students have access to online lectures.
“We heard that the exams might be postponed until September but none of our professors told us anything,” she added.
Last month Abdel-Ghaffar said the final term exams will start on 30 May.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly