Today, just a few weeks before the June Examination Session, the University of Malta Faculty of Laws has decided against all reason to impose take home online exams to students for their subjects. This has been decided notwithstanding there being heavy opposition from the respective student organisations who all pushed for assignments; no justifying reasons have been provided as to why this has been decided.
“...The students can’t stamp their feet and dictate. It’s simply not on.” This is what the Dean of the Faculty of Laws told the Minister for Education, in a public correspondence with a student representative, after just having been advised by the Minister that he believes “it is crucial to find an agreement with the students in these extraordinary times.”
Following the social distancing measure brought about by the Covid-19 Pandemic, it became clear that the usual June exams had to be cancelled and alternative modes of assessment had to be considered. GħSL, the Malta Law Students’ Society, therefore proposed to the Faculty an assignment-based method of assessment, after having consulted with all the concerned students. Following this proposal, a group of student representatives were meant to vote on the matter together with the Dean and the Heads of Departments. However, they were unexpectedly stripped from their voting rights and a decision was taken without them to assess the students in an unprecedented take-home online exam format.
Not only has this decision been reached just a few weeks before the examination session, but the students have also not been receiving adequate online lectures on their subjects and are therefore being forced to sit for exams which the faculty has sufficiently failed to prepare them for. This is extremely hypocritical coming from the same Dean who said that “the law course is for those intent on joining the legal profession, for those who … are ready to read for a degree in law (and not just cram for exams)”. This statement, although creditable, requires a balance of responsibilities between the students and the Faculty. It is not right expecting a higher standard from the students when falling short from providing them with the necessary resources and circumstances encompassing their learning environment.
It is important to point out that the students’ learning environment was already in a less than desirable condition: considering that students are not able to access any physical libraries to conduct research and study quietly in. This added with the fact that, as is everyone else, they are stuck at home for weeks on end, their mental health is more fragile than ever. Shockingly, instead of empathising with the students’ difficulties, they opt to dismiss their legitimate concerns, and overburden them.
Take home online exams pose an extraordinary amount of added stress on the students, are the subject of countless practicality issues (still not adequately addressed by the Faculty) and are, put simply, an unnecessary and disproportionate burden. After appropriate student polling, GħSL has proposed a detailed report on how assignments can be adopted in order to create a proportionate balance between a diligent assessment method and empathetic examination conditions.
The ball is now in the Faculty’s side of the field to recognise the error of their ways, and, like Hon. Owen Bonnici suggested, act together with the students instead of against them.