Cancelled Exams, Wasted Lives

The government’s decision to cancel A-levels and GCSE exams took me by surprise. As they are not sat until May and June, abandoning them in March seems rather drastic, a knee-jerk panic. At the start of the week I was marking essays, rehearsing their authors for the real thing. By Thursday, 18 months’ worth of teaching, exam practice and homework were all for nothing. Of course, there is value in education for its own sake. But for a young person starting out, this opportunity to shine has been taken from him; the rug has been pulled from his feet. They left the day’s assembly dazed and angry. Denied the final day of term in the summer, denied the opportunity for year-group photos, denied the opportunity to exceed expectations. Teenagers annoy me much of the time and their silly antics and legendary idleness frequently arouse my wrath. But this week, their sorrow moved me to tears.

Their situation is not the end of the world. Universities will still, somehow, accept them; apprenticeship providers will take the circumstances into account. I downplayed my distress and urged them to look on the bright side, make interesting plans for this long holiday and savour the thought of regaling their grandchildren with memories of 2020. They will recover and pick themselves up. Careers will still be had, jobs will be filled and promotions gained. From this cruel blow, their fortunes will rally.

Eighteen months of wasted work is a shame, but what if it were eighteen years? What if it were eighty? People work hard all their lives. Some save, others spend. Some travel the globe, others build lovely homes. Some live freely, others create families and bonds. But what’s it all for? Solomon reflects on this in Ecclesiastes chapter 1:

What profit has a man from all his labour,

In which he toils under the sun?

One generation passes away, and another generation comes;

But the earth abides forever.

This life on earth is but a brief stint, a gust of wind, a drop in the sea. What we do with Jesus Christ is the only thing that matters, for that alone will be the theme and substance of eternity. Eighteen months of an A-level course with no A-level awarded is a relative bargain compared to a life of toil followed by a Christ-less eternity.