Sense prevailed! Struggling students and miserable parents breathed a sigh of relief over the eventual announcement of the cancellation of the examinations, by the Federal education minister Shafqat Mahmood himself. But, amidst the celebrations and running commentary over the issue, the question is, what was the problem? Why did the education minister took such a callous policy decision at first? And, why did he eventually succumb to the mounting pressure? The world as we know is battered by the Covid -19 pandemic, with many regions and the countries grappling with the second and third waves of the virus. Amid ramped up vaccinations across the world to fight the coronavirus, the pandemic has already taken a toll on the Asia-Pacific region with India becoming the global hotspot. Fears have already rapt the authorities in Pakistan over the possibility that the new “Indian strain” of the coronavirus – a “double-mutant” variant – considered to be responsible for a recent spike in infections in India, may enter the country. As authorities are planning to issue curfew like lockdown across the country, with the military already called on the streets to implement the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to check further spread of Covid-19, thousands of students were earlier forced to appear for the O and A-Level exams in person —against the SOPs announced earlier this week by the government itself. Fighting for their lives and their families the students had run from pillar to post demanding the Cambridge Board cancel upcoming May-June 2021 exams which seemed like a reasonable demand given the extraordinary times we live in. They approached four different high courts, which had also turned down the petitions to cancel physical examinations or switch to predicted grades. It also seemed that the government’s different ministries were not on one page. While the country’s Covid nerve center NCOC recurrently issued its set of SOPs, it fell on deaf ears, when it came to the education ministry. The education Minister, who finally announced the cancellation of exams on Tuesday, was also in a state of confusion thus exacerbating the issue. The minister had previously noted that it was not his place to make decisions related to exams from a health standpoint as such decisions are taken by medical experts. The minister even claimed that the Cambridge board did not extend the option to students in Pakistan to take the exams in the October/ November session without having to pay any additional fee. This claim by the minister came as a shocker for many, since as per the details the Cambridge International board had already cancelled exams in over 10 countries across the world. Cambridge International is opting for teacher assessments for its IGCSE qualifications in the UK. The board noted that it will go for teachers’ assessments in a “very small” number of countries and regions where it will be “impossible” for the exams to go ahead. One wonders why Pakistan was not part of that “very small” number of countries which were afforded such relaxations. Moreover, when Cambridge examinations began on Monday large numbers of SOPs violations were committed during Examination. Video clips and pictures revealed that the lack of maintaining social distancing was a major violation especially outside the centers before and after starting the exams. Large number of students and their attendants/parents were observed not following the set rules of procedure to cope with the spread of pandemic. However, on the contrary the education minister Shahfqat Mahmood adamant on his position, claimed that he “visited an exam centre with the Head of British Council and Cambridge Pakistan. SOPs were being strictly observed including social distancing etc.” But, when the minister was trolled on social media platform twitter on his false claims, he even went an extra mile and remarked that “some nobodies who have jumped into this situation for cheap publicity are going so far as to distribute fake pictures of examination halls. Their attempt to spread confusion has failed and will continue to fail because they are not interested in students but self-projection.” Such ludicrous statements were unbecoming of a sitting minister. But, on Tuesday, surprisingly, taking a U-turn on his own claims, the minister finally accepted the reality and took to twitter to note that the permission to hold the exam was conditional on strict SOP observance. “As more reports have come in, it is obvious that outside the exam centres the compliance is poor. This and the latest corona spread reports will be discussed in a special NCOC meeting today afternoon,” he said in a statement posted on his official Twitter account. As #cancelcieexams2021 emerged as one of the top Twitter trends in the country, Shafqat Mahmood eventually on Tuesday, announced that all O and A level exams had been cancelled and would now take place in the October-November cycle. However, A-2 exams will keep running for those students who want to appear for the purpose of applying to foreign universities. “It has been directed strictly that after Monday, more than 50 people will not be in one centre. For that we have requested that schools be made venues,” the minister said, adding that law enforcement personnel will be deployed to maintain discipline. In a tweet, Mahmood said the decision had been taken to address the “health concerns of students and parents”. “All exams cancelled till June 15 and depending on the spread of the disease may even go further,” he wrote. The decision means that the exams of grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 that were due to start at the end of May stand postponed further, Mahmood added. “This is a difficult time. A lot of parents will be reassured [by the decision] that their children will not go to sit exams at a time when Covid is at a peak,” the minister said, emphasising that the decision had been taken in a “collective spirit” in the best interests of students’ future. Collective spirit? Had this collective spirit been on the display if the parents, students, civil society, journalists and twitter trends would not have mounted pressure? Announcing the cancellation of the exams, He said the number of critical Covid-19 patients in the country had surpassed 5,000, the highest since the start of the pandemic, and that the Covid is wreaking havoc. Weren’t the students fighting their case with the same argument? It is pertinent to question why the controversy, why such delays, and why such snub, when eventually the decision has been made in their favor. Dear Government, dear Mr. Minister, it is not suitable to handle every situation politically. Some issues are genuine, require sagacity and adequate measures, or else anything can be turned into a perfect recipe for a controversy and a disaster.