11 July 2024

Thailand’s youngsters can breathe sighs of relief after the grueling one-day university entrance examination was canceled, but their future education chances still depend on two national exams.

So, the risk of missing these exams if they get infected with COVID-19 is sparking a loud outcry, especially from students who have been revising hard for months.

They want the authorities to come up with a better plan.

In other Asian countries, allowances have been made so students in quarantine or isolation can still take their exams.

COVID+ students handed lifeline

When China held its “gaokao” university entrance exams in June last year, COVID-positive students were not left out. Instead, they were allowed to take their tests in isolation – either in a hospital or at special facilities.

Invigilators wore protective clothing and hung up the finished papers to be sprayed with disinfectant.

Last November, when South Korea held its “Suneung” or College Scholastic Ability Test, 68 infected students and 105 in self-quarantine were permitted to take the eight-hour-long exam in isolation.

Both gaokao and Suneung play a huge part in shaping students’ futures, as the university they attend can dictate their career prospects, social standing, and even marriage prospects.

Importance of TCAS

For Thai secondary students dreaming of further education, the focus is on the Thai University Center Admission System (TCAS). Their main task is to understand TCAS rules and prepare for the General Aptitude Test (GAT) and Professional Aptitude Test (PAT) to boost their chances of enrolling at their favored university. GAT and PAT are as important in Thailand as gaokao and Suneung are in China and South Korea.

This year, GAT/PAT are scheduled to be held from March 12-15 nationwide.

TCAS 2022 Exam System’s manager, Assoc Prof Dr Chalie Charoenlarpnopparut, insists TCAS rules will not be relaxed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Since 2018, GAT and PAT exams have been held just once a year. Anyone who misses the tests for any reason – even being injured in a road accident – has no right to a makeup exam. The same rule applies to GAT/PAT hopefuls who have been infected with COVID-19 or come into close contact with cases.

“There are three reasons why COVID-19 patients are not allowed to take the test or be given an exam later,” he said.

“First, to lower the risk of transmission, disease control laws prohibit infected cases from leaving quarantine. Second, we cannot hold exams in hospitals because all TCAS testing sites must have the same standards. Hospitals will not be able to comply [with those standards], and we do not have the ability to handle contaminated papers.”

“Third, we cannot come up with different questions for a catch-up exam because our tests must be fair to all. There are no advantages or disadvantages.”

Education inequality – The state school teachers’ dilemma

Any solution for Thai students?

Education Minister Treenuch Thiengthong finally intervened in the controversy this week, after the uproar from students hit shrieking levels.

She assigned Education permanent secretary Supat Champathong to negotiate with the Council of University Presidents of Thailand (CUPT) on what can be done to adjust TCAS in the face of the COVID-19 Omicron outbreak.

However, sources say the TCAS management is unlikely to alter its stance. The only change could be that students with a body temperature over 37.5 degrees Celsius are allowed to take their test in a different room.

TCAS manager Chalie has one piece of advice for students preparing to take exams: Protect yourself against COVID-19.

Japan’s solution

While Japan is not as flexible as China and South Korea, it does offer some wiggle room for exam takers who are infected or high-risk.

When Japan’s unified admission exams were held earlier this month, students who had come into contact with patients but had no symptoms were allowed to take their tests in a separate room, while those with COVID-like symptoms could apply for a catch-up test scheduled for Jan 29-30.

Japanese authorities have also called on universities to devise other ways of helping students who have had to miss their crucial exams.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk