Writing exams in pandemic


I also watched our Director-General of Ghana Education Service (GES), Professor Kwasi Opoku-Amakwa,on Tuesday, July 14, 2020, on the Accra-based Citi TV’s Face-to-Face programme with Umaru Sanda Amadu and it was interesting. The discussions were on COVID-19 and school reopening, and one of the sub-topics, which seriously caught my attention, and which I would also want to dilate on briefly, as a counsellor, is “Writing exams in a pandemic”.

We have come to a point where COVID-19 boasts of being a disaster, pandemic and a terrorist of our lives. But as to whether or not it is a stopper of our very existence and livelihood is what this piece attempts to look at.With or without COVID-19, must there not be a life to live, including being supported to have an education and to be assessed on the things that are being taught us?

Life in a pandemic

World Health Organisation (February 2010) defined a pandemic as aworldwide spread of a new disease. Intermountain Healthcare (April 2020) stated that a pandemic is an epidemic which spreads over multiple countries or continents.A pandemic is of public health significance. 

Life, in a pandemic, surely is not that which can be described as being ‘normal’. For fear of infection leading to sickness or death, everybody is carefuland supported to be safe in a pandemic. Interestingly, our world has had and it continues to have a bite of diseases like cholera, yellow fever, meningitis, influenza, SARS, MERS, Ebola, HIV/AIDS and now COVID-19 on our existence. Their outbreaks and threatshave had and have been having telling effects on economies, food security and livelihood, and on mental, psycho-social and emotional wellbeing. 

Fear is an intrinsic and emotive factor of us, as humans, especially when it is reported that a new disease, like COVID-19, with no vaccine,is killing fast. But it should be understood also that there are self-care strategies to follow to be safe and even when infected, healthcare services into recovery still exist, after all. And so, with proper education on and understanding of what to do and what not to do in an atmosphere of no stigma and discrimination (instead, love and compassion), fear and panic leading to anxiety, stress and depression becomes nonexistent. With sensitisationagainst over-complacencyon safetyin a pandemic, the mental health and psycho-social wellbeing of citizens with a perfectimmune-response ability to infectionalso is secured.

To expect to have a life in a pandemic same as when there is no pandemic is practically impossible. To survive and to have livelihood, there is always the need to make adjustments to some of our ways of doing things, including schooling, trading and organisation of social events. A pandemic usually brings to the fore a situation of “necessity” as against “invention” in order to help us fit well in it. A pandemic is characteristically communicable (i.e. contagious or infectious or virulent) and to have its spread and effects curtailed and to possibly return life to normalcy, safety measures and protocols like quarantine, isolation and some forms of restriction are used. 

Life in any pandemic, therefore,is usually seen, described and lived as being “abnormal” and when the spread and effects of the pandemic seem to be persistent, people are urged to appreciate life as being in a “new normal” and are told to follow some protocols for their continued safety.

In any pandemic, it is proper education (or public sensitisation) and words of wisdom, assurance and comfort laced with love, empathy and sympathy (and from a religious dimension, prayers) and when there is any infection, good treatment given, that the people need to be fine and safe.This piece, therefore,capturesEducation Minister/MP Dr. Matthew OpokuPrempeh’s popular saying of the virus, COVID-19, “If you move, it moves; you stop, it stops” and President Akufo-Addo’sconsistent hope of an end to the virus, “Fellow Ghanaians, this too shall pass” as fitting.

Examinations in a pandemic

It is science, data and support services which determine whether or not an educational activity, like examination, be allowed to happen in a pandemic at any given time in a geographical space.

If science and public health backed by data with vital technology and support services, including treatment and vaccination, support that children could be in school and be assessed, it is done. It would just be inappropriate and unfair for any system to ask its children and learners to stay at home for say, one year, due to a pandemic if the scientific data, fact and evidence do not say so. 

Just as life, in a broad sense of it, cannot be shattered completely because a pandemic has come, school activities, including examinations, must not suffer a shut-down.Even in adversity, should there not be a life to live? And this is also one crucial area for the school counsellor to be more visible, relevant and useful. Our students, teachers and staff require the needed therapy against the hazy wave of fear, anxiety and panic which pandemics usually are noted for generating.It is counterproductive and suicidal for students being prepared to write an examination be allowed to battle stress, trauma and depression over a pandemic, like the ravaging COVID-19. Let us help! 

Examinations, such as BECE and WASSCE, sum up and conclude learning activities at basic and senior high levels and they are a moment of heightened feeling of accomplishment and excitement by students. They mostly jubilate over having completed their courses of study with the hope that they will continue to higher levels or move into vocations and jobs for income. Any decision, therefore, to have the excitement and expectations of children and students halted due to a pandemic do not only destabilise them psychologically but also traumatise and depress them.

The school counsellor knows that he or she is a teacher, mentor and a helping professional to children, students and staff. He or she reads widely, partners colleague teachers and health professionals well (including SHEP coordinators), and prepares good psychosocial messages from Frequently Asked Questions (FQAs) on COVID-19 for compliance by students and staff. 

The wearing of face mask, hand sanitising and/or hand washing with soap under running water, and social (physical) distancing tips and other measures against the virus should be written in simple, clear and understandable terms and embossed at vantage points for students and staff. 

Our mandate, as school counsellors, is to educate our students and to help them and colleague staff to make good decisions in life, including good behaviourwhile writing examinationsduring thisCOVID-19. This is another great time for us, as counsellors, to use the fine skills, principles and strategies of preventive counselling, crisis counselling and remedial counselling to help our students and staff to avoid an infection, and depression and stigmatisation linked to COVID-19.

Before COVID-19, for instance, coughing, sneezing, headache and loss of appetite had been with us and so, counsellorsshould try to reassure, show empathy and encourage others to do same to students and candidates so that any fear, panic and stress linked to these conditions now can fade.

Wishing all candidates safe as they work for success in their exams!

The writer is an educationist and a professional counsellor in Ghana Education Service.

By Anthony Kwaku Amoah

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