Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 April 2020

Coronavirus: UAE pupils fear summer exams could be postponed

There have been calls for GCSE and A Levels in the UK to be put on hold, but exam boards insist tests are to go ahead as scheduled

Brendon Fulton, principal of Dubai British School Jumeirah Park, says all education bodies must work together to ensure pupils are not adversely impacted by the disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Antonie Robertson/The National
Brendon Fulton, principal of Dubai British School Jumeirah Park, says all education bodies must work together to ensure pupils are not adversely impacted by the disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Antonie Robertson/The National

UAE pupils fear the coronavirus outbreak could force summer examinations to be postponed - and leave their academic plans in limbo.

Schools across the Emirates closed for a month on March 8 - and will begin a planned two-weeks of distance learning on Sunday - as part of measures to curb the spread of the virus but exam boards have assured teachers and learners alike that crucial tests are set to go ahead.

There have been calls in the UK for GCSE and A Level examinations due to be held in May or June to be put on hold, but as of Wednesday they were still scheduled to go ahead.

On Monday, the UK's education secretary Gavin Williamson told pupils “I want to reassure you that we are doing everything to make sure that this year’s exams are fair for students and that their efforts will be fairly rewarded.”

While pupils have until August 31 to meet academic conditions of their offers from British universities, UK's Universities and Colleges Admissions Service body told The National exceptions could be made where universities grant admission to applicants based on predicted grades.

Everyone in my grade is worried about final exams at the end of May

Emma Parisot

Luca Frost, an 18-year-old Year 13 pupil at Nord Anglia International School aims to start his bachelors studies in London this year but is concerned International Baccalaureate exams could fall victim to the pandemic.

“If they were to cancel this exam, we may have to sit for these in November, and that would mean I would not be able to go to university this year.

“We are all watching the situation in the UK very closely to see how it develops and how university life might be affected.”

Emma Parisot, a 17-year-old American pupil at Gems World Academy in Dubai, said she was concerned about how effective virtual learning would be and the impact this would have on her studies.

"Everyone in my grade is worried about final exams at the end of May as these exams are important for our predicted grades next year," she said.

Ella Burkett, a 17-year-old Turkish-American pupil in Abu Dhabi is aiming to attend university in the United States.

She said pupils who have conditional offers from UK schools are worried as they need to meet the conditions of their offers.

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"If IB exams were postponed or cancelled, it would pose a huge concern for people who are relying on this grade to be accepted to university," she said.

Dubai British School Jumeirah Park has pupils sitting GCSE and A levels exams in May.

"Exams will probably not be cancelled or postponed as this would be too much of a disruption for pupils in terms of applying for university places," said Brendon Fulton, the school's principal.

"The advice from the exam board at the moment is that we continue to work towards the scheduled dates.

"Even if countries go into lockdown, pupils would be split into smaller groups for exams.

"One of the contingency plans that we have in place is that we would make more exam venues available with smaller groups of pupils so rather than having 50 or 100 pupils in an exam hall, we could have smaller groups of 15 or 20 pupils."

He said that in extreme case where pupils were unable to appear for A-level exams, universities could possibly accept them on the basis of predicted results provided by schools, or on the basis of an entrance exam.

"Everyone needs to work together, the government, the schools, universities, exam boards to make sure the pupils are protected in term of getting through the next few months without negatively affecting their tertiary options," he said.

Cambridge Assessment, the body which oversees GCSE, A-levels and IGCSEs, have confirmed the exams will go ahead according to schedule.

"The June 2020 exam series timetable is global and we work in over 160 countries. It is not possible for us to make changes at short notice because timetabling across many different countries is so complex," the organisation said in a statement.

“We know that schools in many countries around the world have had to close to meet government requirements. Students have missed teaching time and it is not always clear when schools will reopen."

Affected schools can withdraw candidates from the upcoming examinations until April 17.

The International Baccalaureate board is also monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and has informed pupils that their examinations will go ahead.

“The IB is unable to make changes to the upcoming May 2020 examination schedule as it is adhered to globally," said an official.

“The IB understands that university admissions are a source of great concern for our school and student community. Although the IB cannot influence universities to change their admissions requirements, it is communicating with universities and institutes globally to ensure they are aware of the situation facing affected students."

The programme has extended coursework and assessment deadlines for schools closed in the UAE and other areas affected by the outbreak.

Fiona McKenzie, head of education at Carfax Education in Dubai, offered words of advice for fretting pupils.

"My advice to pupils is to sit tight, concentrate on getting the best possible results at school, to engage with online learning schools will be providing, and to monitor the situation," she said.

Updated: March 18, 2020 12:45 PM

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