Critics are accusing the Manitoba Government of crippling Grade 12 students hoping to pursue higher learning by cancelling the provincial standardized assessments.

The Minister of Education, however, is inclined to object.

The criticism comes after Cliff Cullen’s office decided to cancel the semester-end exams for the third semester in a row. The decision, he says, was made in light of ongoing complications caused by COVID-19.

“When it comes to the COVID-19 situation and this particular suspension, we certainly have to be respectful and mindful of the mental health of the students and the teachers as well,” states the Minister.

While the move is regrettable, Cullen does not believe it will be an obstacle for students looking to attend university or college in the coming years.

“We have had discussions with post-secondary institutions and cancelling these particular province-wide exams has not, in the past, had implications for students in terms of getting into post-secondary education," he notes. "So, we do not see that being an issue moving forward either.”

Cullen stresses assessments will still be taking place at local levels to ensure students are learning and retaining knowledge.

A primary reason given for the cancellation is the blended learning model many students have assumed as a result of the pandemic. In order to follow government guidelines around physicals-distancing, most Manitoba high schools have limited their capacity. Because of this, students do not attend school every day but only occasionally throughout the week; some students are even continuing their education entirely from home.

Those shifting factors, according to Cullen, could create an imbalanced result on the test.

A leading purpose of the provincial tests is to compare Manitoba Grade 12 students to those across Canada. With many other provinces already opting out, Cullen says it made further sense for Manitoba to do the same.

“It is certainly unfortunate that we are doing this and it is certainly not something I would prefer, but I think we are in step with many of the other jurisdictions.”

So far, Cullen says, he has not received any pushback from post-secondary institutions regarding this decision.