Pakistan’s Academic Calendar vs. Climate Reality as Students Struggle in the Heat

The oppressive heat of summer has become a period of immense mental and physical strain for schoolchildren across Pakistan. As the academic year grinds to a close, students in Sindh and other provinces brace themselves for exam season amid soaring temperatures. April marks the beginning of the final exam period, with students sitting for both their school finals and the matriculation and intermediate board exams. Unfortunately, the academic calendar does not align with seasonal changes, leaving millions of students vulnerable to extreme weather conditions.

Each year, approximately two million students at the matric and intermediate levels are directly impacted by the poorly timed exams. Earlier this month, exams in some districts of Sindh were postponed due to a life-threatening heatwave. In Karachi alone, 640,000 students are currently participating in these exams, contributing to the nearly two million students across the province.

The timing of these exams, coinciding with peak summer temperatures, poses a significant challenge. Despite repeated incidents of students fainting or falling ill during exams, the relevant educational authorities have not adjusted the academic calendar to consider the climatic conditions. This year, exams were again held during intense heat, causing severe distress among students.

On March 6, the Federal Ministry of Education urged the Sindh Department of Universities and Boards to schedule exams earlier, as other provinces had already done. However, the steering committee responsible for setting exam dates in Sindh argued that the curriculum was incomplete, making it impossible to conduct exams earlier. This decision has once again resulted in exams being held in extreme heat, causing significant hardship for students.

Experts and educators have repeatedly suggested scheduling exams in March and April to avoid the worst of the summer heat. Dr. Muhammad Memon, a prominent educationist, emphasized that holding exams during cooler months would alleviate stress for students and prevent them from being excluded from university admissions due to delayed results.

Despite these recommendations, the academic calendar remains unchanged. The Sindh School Education Department's steering committee initially decided to revert the session start date to April but faced delays in printing textbooks, pushing the start date to August. This change means that exams will likely continue to be held during severe heat in the coming years.

Winter also presents challenges, as schools reopen just as temperatures drop in January. Children are often seen shivering on their way to school, as the coldest days in Sindh occur after the winter break ends. The Pakistan Meteorological Department has warned that climate change will likely lead to more intense heatwaves in the future, making it imperative to adjust the academic calendar accordingly.

The construction of schools and other buildings with heat-absorbing materials exacerbates the situation, as they retain heat and make it difficult to cool down. Afforestation efforts in Pakistan are minimal, and there is a lack of public enthusiasm for planting trees, which could help mitigate the effects of extreme weather.

In Punjab, there have been attempts to adjust the academic calendar, but objections from various provinces have prevented a unified approach. With over 30 million children in school across the country, it is crucial to adapt the educational system to the realities of climate change.

Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach, including redesigning buildings to improve airflow, planting more trees, and adjusting lifestyles to cope with the changing climate. It is time for educational authorities to prioritize the well-being of students by scheduling exams during more favorable weather conditions and implementing measures to ensure a comfortable learning environment.

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