By Vishani Ragobeer
In September 2020, when the results of the 2020 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations were released, students attending the Port Kaituma Secondary School in Region One (Barima-Waini) saw that they were “ungraded” for Mathematics, English and Principles of Business.
Given the importance of Mathematics and English and generally, the sinking feeling that accompanies an “ungraded” mark, the students were distressed. Like many of their colleagues in Guyana and throughout the Caribbean, they knew that they deserved a better grade and as such, they engaged the local Education Ministry in lobbying the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) to review these discrepancies.
Months later, this entire review process has not been completed but scores of students have received better grades, or, at least, the grades they knew they worked for all the while. One such student is Keron Williams, a former student of the Port Kaituma Secondary school, who has emerged as the top hinterland student.
On Wednesday, while announcing the results of the 2020 CXC Examinations, Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, highlighted that Williams scored nine grade one passes and three grade two passes and that he had topped Region One. With his grades, he also emerged as the top student from among the four hinterland regions (Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine).
“While I was watching the (livestream) that the Ministry of Education was doing, I was just looking at it and not expecting anything or so and then I just heard my name… At that moment, I was just looking at the screen and wondering if it was me,” Williams told the News Room via a Zoom interview on Wednesday night.
Upon realising that he was the region’s top student, the young man said that he felt a sense of elation but more importantly, a sense of vindication following the discrepancies the students of his school faced when they first received their results.
He recalled that it was about 20:00 hrs one night when he and his colleagues were anxiously waiting to check their results online.
“I saw messages coming in our Grade 11 WhatsApp group saying ‘I got ungraded for Maths and English’ and I thought that was a one-person thing and that could be fixed but then I logged into my CXC account for my results and I saw ‘Ungraded’ for Maths and English and I messaged in the group and everybody had ungraded for Maths and English,” he recounted.
From that moment, he said that a host of emotions washed over him – worry, confusion and frustration. He, and many of his colleagues, questioned what they did wrong that resulted in them receiving this grade.
“Thankfully,” he said, “(the results) did come back and most people got results that they were happy with.”
It was also a greater sense of vindication for him since he set out to show that hinterland students are capable of excelling at CSEC, despite the challenges they are confronted with. It is, for this reason, Williams said he opted to write 12 subjects although his school was only offering eight.
“People think that in the hinterland region that they can’t perform well and that the secondary schools there are not successful every year at CSEC. I am trying to change that and show that hinterland students have the ability and they also have the same knowledge and the same abilities as (students) out there (on the coast) have,” Williams emphasised.
Proving this was no easy task, however. And it was a feat exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2020, Guyana recorded its first COVID-19 infection. Thereafter, schools closed and learning shifted to the virtual platform.
Williams related that his Grade 11 class had not yet completed their learning and preparation for the CSEC examinations when the pandemic struck. While many students shifted to online learning, that was a challenge for students in Region One since internet connectivity is often poor.
Still, he said that he and his colleagues persevered – studying from their textbooks and helping each other out. Now that he has accomplished what he set out to do, Williams said that his next goal is to become a medical doctor. Already, he has received a scholarship from the Ministry of Public Service and is pursuing an Associate’s Degree in Biology, at the University of Guyana (UG), before he can enter Medical School.
In addition to Williams, the other top students for the hinterland regions are: Ackeem Williams from the Three Miles Secondary School In Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), who scored six grade one passes and four grade two passes; Laura Carvalho from the Paramakatoi Secondary School in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni), who scored five grade two passes and two grade three passes; and, Ashley Rodrigues from the St. Ignatius Secondary school in Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) who scored seven grade one passes and three grade three passes.