To Sit or Not To Sit Exams

Postdate: 28/ 11/ 2003 

The recent report of an incident where a school student was barred from sitting an external exam on the authority of the school principal raises issues which have caused some debate between parents, pupils and teachers but also important from human rights perspective. The school principal is concerned that the pupil being absent from attending classes for some length of time was guilty of unwarranted absenteeism. And by not allowing her to register as a candidate for the particular external exam in 2003 the student’s chance of a pass would be considerably improved if he were to sit the following year. But two worthy observers of the Fiji school system – no lesser persons than two former Ministers of Education Ms. Taufa Vakatale and, Pratap Chand MP – have made an observation that there is more to it here than meets the eye. In their view the student should be allowed to sit the exam. The real issue here is the school principal’s infatuation with maintaining the reputation of the school and perhaps his own as well in ensuring always that school achieves high exam results. Nothing must be allowed to dent this excellent record of excellence over other schools. In the view of the two educationists there is a conflict of interest here; there is the interest of the institution over and against the interest of the student. But clearly the latter is the one that should be given primary consideration. It is understandable that there are heads of schools who are proud to see themselves as heads of top schools in the country. With so much said about deteriorating standards of education we appreciate that such schools would zealously guard their exam results and would go to any length not to allow their pupils against their wish to sit for the external exam. But the primary consideration here is the student; a student whose future could be placed at risk if not allowed to sit the exam. To sit or not to sit is the question! Here the student has argued that he was not playing truant but taking time off to swot and better his chance at passing the exam. Here we turn to the Convention of Rights of the Child (Article 3.1) which says ( I quote): “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private institutions, courts of law, administrative and legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” Since Fiji has ratified this Convention it is bound to abide by its provisions in dealing with matters such as tensions between school management and pupils. In the spirit of the Convention the provisions of education should be made available as compulsory, free and universal. It is obvious that nothing be allowed to prevent free access of a child to education. There are exceptions of course. But the question is whether this should include measures which are imposed from outside and which might limit the scope of the child’s choice in education. Any exception to the rule could be allowed if proven that it’s in the child’s interest to do so. If there is fear for the child’s safety in the particular school whether it be for racial bullying or whatever. But since this is not the case here clearly I believe it’s the rights of the child that commands our primary consideration and lesser importance given to the institutional reputation or the pass rate record of the school in question. At the end of the day it is the child

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