From Cambridge with love: For many students, on D-Day the A* emerges as the new A

Amid some pleasant and ugly surprises, students withstand immense pressure as results are handed out.

Asif Umar/samia Saleem August 11, 2011


There is one student who scored over 90% or A*s in six O’ Level Cambridge exams but because she was given a B grade in Art she is not eligible for admissions to one of the top A’ Level schools in the city. Her case demonstrates the cranial-crushing pressure teenagers across Pakistan endure when it comes to their academic futures.

And indeed, futures were made and broken on Thursday when the Cambridge International Examination (CIE) results were announced across schools in Karachi. And, it wasn’t just quaking boys and girls outside principals’ offices who were dreading the outcomes. A’ Level student Meiryum Ali, who writes a column for these pages, reported that parents at the bank where her father works were also on a knife’s edge over their children’s results.

The counting of As, Bs, Cs and unfortunately some Es, Fs and wondrous Ws began to the delight and horror of teachers across the city. Competition is stiffer than the legendary principal Mrs Henderson’s value system at St Patrick’s High School.

With the introduction of the A* for 90% marks and above, the CIE has upped its ante, leaving behind the previously perfectly respectable A grade - now a mere 80% to 90%. As a result, unless you scored all A*s in 22 subjects, as a student you could say good-bye to parental approval, love and funding, especially if they are the punishing kind.

Senior teacher Faiza Kazi of St Joseph’s Convent High School is against this obsession with A*s. She believes we have moved away from “acquiring knowledge” and “values” or a good solid education and are now just besotted with attaining these impossibly high grades. She laments that instead of celebrating perfectly good results, students self flagellate if they score anything less than A*s. She is equally critical of schools that consider the O’ Level results in isolation for admission. A much better A’ Level policy, happily used by some schools, is to interview the student, examine class reports and consider extracurricular work in addition to the CIE results.

Make or break

The reception hall of The CAS School was charged with equal measures of excitement and dread, as students were being lined up beside the principal’s office to receive their results on Thursday morning.

Some stood quietly waiting for the moment of truth while others clung to their friends and leaned on sympathetic shoulders. “I’m so nervous I can’t even answer questions!” exclaimed one girl as she held on to a friend for dear life.

“I’ve heard that the marking for this year has been quite lenient, and I didn’t think that the paper was too difficult, but I have to admit I’m still pretty nervous,” said student Yawar.

The principal, Almas Riaz, admitted to breathing a sigh of relief once all the slips were handed out. According to her, they were not exceptional but she and the teachers were happy that their students had successfully cleared them.

The principal of the Southshore School for A’ Level Studies, Raheel Masood, was also relieved once the deed was done. “The results reflect that the hard work and effort of our students, and the supervision of our dedicated faculty has definitely paid off,” Masood said. “And like every year we had some pleasant surprises, proving that our students can do anything they put their minds to.”

The principal of The Lyceum School, Shereen Saeed Khan, told The Express Tribune that they had an excellent result - roughly 87 As in their A’ Level batch and over 80 As in their AS Level batch. The Happy Home School was thrilled too. According to the head of the O’ Level section, Farah Imam, this year they received exceptional results, particularly in English Literature, Urdu and Computer Science, in which 100% of their students received A*s. They were extremely happy to see all A*s in English Literature.

The dean of the A’ Level section at St Patrick’s school, Angelo Rayer, said that he was delighted as well. “We have some students who performed really well and others who were a bit weaker but I am happy for that fact that we have maintained our standard,” he said. The main focus now at the school is to get the students into good universities and Rayer said that there are quite a few who were going to the world’s top schools. Naseema Kapadia, who runs the Cambridge section at St Joseph’s Convent High School, said that she saw a lot of As and A*s this year. There are at least two girls who emerged with straight A*s.

Not everyone was rejoicing, however. The deputy director of the A’ Level section at Foundation Public School, Ameneh Namazi, said that in a few cases the results did not match the potential of the students. However, they did well in Math and Physics. There were a total of 158 students in the A’ Level section and many of them scored As and A*s. At Nixor, students said that the result emerged in two extremes. “It was either very good or very bad,” said one student.

For O’ Level students the arduous and self-worth decimating process of applying to A’ Level schools will now begin. Armed with their marks slips, students will vie for Karachi Grammar School, St Patrick’s High School and The Lyceum school for starters.

For the A’ Level students the wait will begin for replies from universities abroad. Others will start applying to national universities. For many of them, happily, either they received conditional acceptance offers based on their projected grades.

Best in the world

Traditionally, Pakistani students have performed well in the CIE. “They are now among toppers in the world,” said Asif Khan, the director for exams at the British Council for Sindh and Balochistan.

Every year, the British Council awards students who get the top marks in the world, and the top marks in Pakistan. “They will receive the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award later this year by the end of this December or January,” explained Rakhshanda Khushal, the senior school development manager at the CIE in Pakistan.

with additional input by sohrab anklesaria

Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2011.

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