My stomach twists as I read the news. Exclamations, emojis, celebrations, complaints bombard my phone.
Earlier that morning, I woke up at 7 am with a schedule for the day laid out: Math Paper 4, Science paper 6, Enterprise, and Chinese paper 1. I was no longer jarred by the sleepiness in my eyes as I sat down in front of a two-hour-long practice paper. Revising for my final IGCSE’s that were approaching more rapidly than I hoped was my main focus and aim. Just as I had started the timer and flipped the page, my mother came out of her room and showed me her phone.
My eyes read over the highlighted words and I have to reread them five times to make sense of them. After teasing me for a good thirty seconds by failing to form comprehensible sentences, the words finally rearrange themselves in their true state.
“Today, therefore, we have taken the difficult decision not to run our international examinations in the May/June 2020 series in any country.”
Rapid texts from my friends celebrating their freedom from studying day and night, and other classmates furious about their inability to use these exams as a boost for their (otherwise poor) grades, flood my phone. I’m happy too, I can’t lie. I no longer need to sit down on a chair for 10 hours a day, studying multiple subjects, feeling as if I have no life. I can relax, read, bake, sleep and.. do nothing. I swoon over my luck – I worked hard the whole year, and now those grades can carry me forward, instead of needing to slog some more. I look at my past paper victoriously, smirk at it and get out of my chair.
We relax on the balcony with Singapore’s early morning sun streaming in. Our plants look even greener, and I can finally take time to see the intricate shapes of clouds that fill the baby blue sky. Next to me, my mother scrolls down the ‘Grade 10 Moms’ chat. We both can’t help but laugh incredulously as we read the messages. The demands for exams to continue onwards, for the school to hold internal exams, and accusations towards the school and the exam board fills me with bubbling rage. I want to scream at the screen, so all of the moms can hear me from their couches, or bedrooms, or wherever in their protected, comfortable house they’re nestled in.
Do you not see the news? Do you not see the crumbling, destructed, horrible and apocalyptic situation our world is in right now? Are you blind to the way this virus has held our regular lives hostage, murdered innocent people, and blasted our economy? Do you not see? As parents, your priority is to protect your children. Now, more than ever, this instinct should kick in. Do you not understand the way that making your child sit in a room, for 2 hours each day with 200 other students, could very quickly go wrong? Are you not concerned? Since when did exams become the most important thing to you? Yes, the IGCSE’s is a gauge of your child’s learning for two years; but the way we respond to this situation… it’s a gauge of our learning from life. Our generation is battling with this global pandemic, seeing something that no one has ever seen before, and you are concerned that we won’t have any experience with board exams before IB? What makes you believe your child is not strong enough to sit exams when they wake up to see the worsening situation of the world everyday? Please, parents. I beg of you. We need perspective. Now, more than ever, please understand that if something happens to your child because you demanded the school for internals, you will regret it for the rest of your life. In the end, it is health that makes or breaks this whole world.
And me. I am equally at fault. Yes, not taking exams for my grade 10 is a weight of my fragile little shoulders. But it is a weight that anyone would gladly in comparison to the drowning, sinking weights carried by many at this moment. I live in Singapore, protected by the government who holds my full and complete trust due to their transparency. But there are people, too many, who do not have that same luxury. Please, do not sit here taking this ‘no exams’ as a little ‘good luck charm’. It is an indicator of how serious the world situation has gotten. Something as constant as IGCSE exams, as constant as my sister studying at Cornell university, Grade 12 graduation, and countless other things are now squashed under this virus’s immense strength. Please, please, look around the freaking world and count your blessings before you sleep.
Fast forward 5 days and I am sitting in the living room with my sister, both of us in denial over the death of Yoon-Seri from ‘Crash Landing on You’, (my sister and I’s current favourite binge). She got back from Cornell University on the 15th of March, just before the western world was rattled by COVID-19’s strength. She was staying at home for 14 days as a self-quarantine, and this was day 12. None of us had any symptoms, but we take Vitamin C’s every day just in case. I am about to play the episode, crossing my fingers that Se-Ri wakes up, when my sister gets a call. It’s the same unknown number she’s gotten a call from three times in the last hour, so she picks up.
“Yes. That’s me….” Her face darkens and I know something is wrong. She puts her phone on speaker. “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” She gestures at my mother to come listen and my mother hops on the sofa behind her, leaning towards the phone.
A Singaporean man’s voice comes through her phone. “Yes sure. I was just confirming that you are on day 12 of your voluntary quarantine?”
“Yes, ” My sister calmly answers, but I know her well enough to hear the panic underneath.
“We wanted to inform you that someone on your flight has tested positive with COVID-19. Therefore, we wanted to strongly encourage you to continue your self-quarantine till day 14.”
I thought I understood the fear of this virus by watching the news thrice a day and feeling queasy for a split second. But for the first time, the queasy feeling now stays in my stomach, refusing to budge. The thought of my sister being exposed to the virus that was attacking our whole world, makes me want to throw up. She didn’t show any symptoms, but what if she was asymptomatic? Could she be a carrier? All these uneasy questions flood through my head and everything just seems so much more… real, now. My mother takes over the phone call, providing the Ministry of Health with our address and phone number in the case that contact tracing is needed, and just like that, I feel it. A violent shaking of my shoulders, knocking my rose-tinted glasses and its ability to ignore the world’s situation off my face. We’ve been lucky. So, so freaking lucky to live in Singapore, to have these chances, to be in a place where everything is controlled despite these uncontrollable circumstances.
So yes parents, your children will not get the feeling of sitting a board exam before IB, but encourage them to use this time to reflect. Be grateful, be thankful and pray for those who need it. And students. You, me. We need to stop being so self-absorbed and just think. Please. I hope this is enough of a reality check, or I fear the universe may find more solemn ways of doing so.