From guns to grades: Aleppo exam scores new battle ground
A rebel fighter aims his weapon to Syrian government forces' positions inside a destroyed school in the Izaa district of Aleppo, on July 14, 2013. (AFP)
Despite the bloody conflict that has engulfed most of Syria, 38 students managed to get perfect scores on their elementary school exams this year, igniting a political controversy between the warring sides.
The atmosphere here was festive as Aleppo received the results of the mandatory state exams that Syrian children take after completing the sixth grade. Fifteen out of the thirty-eight who received perfect scores were the sons and daughters of this embattled city.
Many of the students that excelled have been displaced over the course of the school year and were living under difficult circumstances.
“We had to leave our home only two months before the exams, as armed groups took over our neighborhood,” says Iman, the mother of one of the students. “We took the books with us because education is what we strive for and the way we fight to survive. As for the advocates of ignorance and darkness, they cannot extinguish the light of knowledge.”
“We were forced to leave our Midan neighborhood after the violence there escalated,” another mother explains. “It was an exceptional year with the electricity absent most of the time. But my daughter Sally’s test results made us forget all that misery.”
Upon the announcement of the results, the opposition focused solely on news that 10 of the 38 high achievers were from the governorate of Tartus, a predominantly Alawi area.
The loyalist camp responded by pointing out that 15 of the students with perfect scores were from Aleppo, prompting the opposition to suggest that their high marks were due to cheating permitted by the authorities to ward off any sectarian accusations.
The opposition pointed out that three of the high achievers in Aleppo had exam serial numbers that were close to one another, raising questions about whether someone helped them or that they copied answers from one another.
But one of these students, Sally Sayegh, counters, “My scores are the fruit of many years of hard work – my academic history proves this beyond a doubt, for I was one of three student who always ranked at the top of my class.”
Nabil Khalil, another student with a perfect score, rejects opposition claims, saying that “no student can get a perfect score by cheating, for there are points allocated for creative writing, for example, which you cannot possibly copy from someone else.”
An official who is responsible for the administration of exams in Aleppo insists that his office takes routine precautions before announcing exam results, such as investigating the case of the three girls from one location who achieved top scores.
He said that just because the exam serial numbers are consecutive does not necessarily mean that there was cheating involved. He points out that two of the top scorers in this location ended up sitting next to each other due to the alphabetical order of their names, and nothing more.