I have just sat the first in a series of 48-hour exams and can confirm what everyone already knew…it was terrible.
I am lucky enough to be self-isolating with a supportive family, space and time to work, no caring responsibilities and with access to the necessary resources. Yet, I still found the exam a nightmare. The noise that comes from the everyday working and functioning of a house that was simply not designed to replicate an exam hall, irritated me beyond belief. The noise from my family’s work calls, the screams from neighbour’s children, and the grating voice of an overenthusiastic fitness instructor blaring from YouTube in the room next door, hardly reproduced the familiar rows of tables in a silenced exam hall.
These little complaints rightly pale in comparison to those who are forced to juggle work in key sectors, care for and home school younger siblings and battle for access to the only computer in the house, but it does highlight the level of disadvantage some students will face over the upcoming exam period. These new 48-hour online exams no longer favour hard work. It advantages those in conducive work environments, with access to high-speed internet and supportive family dynamics.
In this exam period, success is no longer defined solely by dedication and commitment; achievement is now dictated by luck.
Issues of inequality in social and familial backgrounds have always impacted students. However, the coronavirus pandemic means that any chance of escape to a library is now out of the question: your work environment is defined by your company and residence on the 23rd March. Living in lockdown seems to be something that in practise, the University has acknowledged – the daily Covid-19 updates talk of fairness and equality. Yet, the policies implemented largely appear to have oversighted this issue. The format and delivery of exams do not favour everyone.
Admittedly, there is a SAC policy in place designed to take into account differences in circumstance. But can a policy previously designed for illness properly deal with the sheer level of discrepancies the University are dealing with now? The no-detriment policy can only do so much. Additionally, the outcome of a SAC is not decided upon until after the examination period is over: the unknown outcome of this appeal will do little to remedy the stress felt whilst attempting to sit an exam that may dictate your future. Your success may now hang in the balance of an overwhelmed system of bureaucracy. The University has failed to consider the all-consuming and far reaching effects of this global pandemic on its students.
It is understandable that the University didn’t issue a blanket cancellation of exams. The modern age undeniably operates in such a way that forms of assessment can continue with the absence of an exam hall. But Durham’s solution is not the answer. For students in situations where access to adequate levels of space, peace and time are severely limited, the University has failed them. Durham University has created a form of assessment that fails to properly account for the diverse range of family dynamics and social circumstances that affect the student body. Circumstances that cannot be properly conveyed through a SAC.
Covid-19 is not the University’s fault. But this institution has a responsibility to all their students. A responsibility to ensure that socio-economic background and privilege does not impede exam success.
Image: Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash