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The Express Tribune Editorial 16 May 2020

Exams and pandemic

After days of suspense, the federal ministry of education announced on Thursday there would be no matriculation and intermediate exams this year in the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, and students of grades 9 to 12 would be promoted. The government has framed a new policy that will govern exams or promotions to the next class in the unprecedented situation. At a press conference in Islamabad, Federal Minister of Education Shafqat Mahmood said 9th and 11th class students would be promoted to 10th and 12th. Those studying in classes 10th and 12th would be awarded marks on the basis of their scores in grade 9 and first-year exams, and would also be given an additional 3% marks.
The government has announced a string of relaxations pertaining to exams. Students of 9th and 11th classes have been exempted from appearing in the composite exams in 2021; they will only take grade 10 or 12 exams; and their marks will be calculated on the basis of their grade 10 to 12 exams. The students who have cleared all subjects in class 9 and 11 would automatically pass class 10 and 12. This will cover a vast majority of students. Those who failed in less than 40% of the subjects in the 9th and 10th class exams will be awarded pass marks. If the coronavirus situation improves, special exams will be arranged for students who are not satisfied with the current policy. Special exams will also be held for those desirous of improving their grade or clear those subjects in which they have earlier failed.
The new policy has been adopted after consultations with provincial ministers of education and other stakeholders. Around four million students from grade 9 to 12 had to appear in exams which had to be either cancelled or deferred as educational institutions will stay closed till July 15 because of the coronavirus. About exams in universities, the HEC will take a decision in consultation with VCs.


Not all wounds are visible

The coronavirus lockdown which has effectively imprisoned an entire country is now nearly three months old and the WHO has warned that there are risks of a global mental health crisis. In a statement, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres pointed out that decades of underinvestment in mental health means that the pandemic is hitting families and communities hard; and grief, anxiety and depression will continue affecting populations even after the pandemic ends.
The major contributing factors to the worsening mental health during the lockdown is the confinement at home and the inability to socially interact with friends, colleagues and loved-ones as before. Another major contributor, according to the UN, is the uncertainty around employment prospects with thousands being laid off or furloughed. Those who survived have faced pay cuts. The fear of contracting the virus and or spreading to loved-ones is also a cause for stress amongst the people and these issues are mounting rapidly. The UN has urged countries to include access to psychosocial support and emergency mental care in all aspects of their response to the pandemic.
Mental health has not only been pushed to the bottom of our largely ignored health sectors, but it also suffers from societal disregard with stigmas attached. This makes the acknowledgement of mental health issues problematic and further hinder seeking help. Thankfully, the emergence of tele- and e-health services may make access to mental health professionals easy, especially in these tough times when a physical visit is riddled with so many threats. At the government level, there is a need to create greater awareness about mental health in general. And just as SOPs have been issued for people to venture out of their homes in relative safety, a set of SOPs should also be issued for people to watch out for signs of mental stress and depression in them and those around them.


Appeasement 2.0

It appears that the United States has given Israel free reign to annex the West Bank. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was on a daylong trip to Israel, told an Israeli radio station that “the Israeli government will decide on the matter, on exactly when and how to do it”, referring to the annexation. With that, he killed any hope that the US government would even pretend to show any respect for international law. He then had the gall to tell the Palestinians that this would be good for them. “I hope the Palestinians understand that peace is good for them,” he said in the interview.
Secretary Pompeo was referring to the proposed US peace plan, made by Jared Kushner, a man whose only diplomatic victory came when he convinced President Donald Trump’s daughter to agree to marry him, which is perhaps also his only qualification for his current job. That plan revolves around giving Israel everything it wants, and a few things it didn’t even bother to ask for because no competent person would have granted them those concessions. Israel will annex up to 40% of the occupied West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem. The Palestinians, meanwhile, get to exist.
The deal is essentially that by letting Israel get whatever it wants and more, Israel would be appeased. The Palestinians were not even allowed to sit at the negotiating table. There is some irony in this, given that the groundwork for the state of Israel was laid by a policy of appeasement. Give the fascist whatever he wants, and he will eventually stop trying to take more. Who cares what Czechoslovakia thinks? But anyone that has read a history book that covers the period from 1933 to 1945 would know that appeasement is both foolish and fatal. When will it stop? After the Sudetenland came Poland, and the rest is world history.
The blood of seven million Jews is on the hands of those that approved such policies in the 1930s. How much Palestinian blood will be on the hands of the current crop of ignorant leaders? Only time will tell.
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