THE JAMAICAN Government has parted company with its Caribbean counterparts on a July date to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination tests.
Minister with responsibility for education, Karl Samuda, said that Jamaica could not endorse the decision of its CARICOM partners for the tests, to be administered by the Caribbean Examinations Council, owing to the impact that COVID-19 has had on the education sector locally.
“The challenges are much greater (in Jamaica) and we don’t feel that we could make a commitment to hold those exams in July under the circumstances,” Samuda told a Jamaica House press conference yesterday evening.
“We are examining very carefully all our options and what possibilities exist for us to give our students the best opportunity to engage the process having come out of a very challenging few months,” he added.
Samuda said that Cabinet will deliberate on the matter shortly and arrive at a position.
CARICOM education ministers held dialogue on the matter last week, at which time many of the representatives agreed to the July date.
However, Dr Grace McLean, acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, who represented Samuda, told the ministers that Jamaica could not rubber-stamp that position because of the many challenges faced by students locally.
As coronavirus containment measures took hold, schools were shuttered on March 13 and will not reopen until September. Online classes have opened up a new frontier of learning but have been marred by technical difficulties, inaccessibility to the Internet, and a shortage of devices for poor students.
Principal of Brown’s Town High, Alfred Thomas, said that students are in need of at least two weeks of face-to-face refresher classes.
“Based on the economic conditions, not all of our students are logging into our Google classroom sessions. We are not fully comfortable that they are exam ready,” he said, adding that only a few SBAs are outstanding.
Thomas said that the school was equipped with an adequate number of computers to facilitate the cohort registered for each subject but explained that social distancing would be a challenge.
“Based on how our computer labs are set up, it’s close-fitting. We will also need to be doing a lot of sanitisation to accommodate the students,” Thomas said.
Meanwhile, acting principal of Kingston High, Andrea Gray-Dwyer, demanded that more logistical details be provided to administrators.
“Our greatest concern has to do with how we facilitate students. How are they going to be accommodated? What resources will be allocated?”
Gray-Dwyer said that approximately 56 per cent of school-based assessments (SBAs), which constitute a share of final grades, have been submitted.
“We are still trying to find students to complete SBAs. There are some students that we have not been able to reach and I’m not sure if this new timeline will give us any increased access to these students,” she said.
Limited e-learning labs
Green Pond High in St James has just over 130 students registered to sit exams this year.
“I’m highly anticipating how it’s going to look. I still can’t wrap my mind around how students will be able to do the exam in one sitting or how the e-testing aspect will work,” said principal Elisea Ellis-Spence.
She said that most high schools were faced with the challenge of limited e-learning labs.
And for principal of Haile Selassie High School, Lorenzo Ellis, candidates across Jamaica are not equally prepared to sit exams in July.
“There is digital divide despite the best efforts of the Ministry of Education, schools and teachers. With our best effort at Haile Selassie High School, we are still not reaching all our students,” he lamented.
More than 80 per cent of SBAs were submitted before schools were ordered closed on March 13 and another 15 per cent within the first week of closure.
That aside, he said students would be better off with a paper-based exam but he is willing to adapt to e-testing.
Ellis said that the school has 42 working computers which is potentially sufficient, if two sittings are allowed per day for the same subject.
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