By Vishani Ragobeer
Though Guyanese students have not been spared from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, highlighted that these students prefer to sit the examinations offered by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) this year.
She made this statement on Tuesday at the sidelines of an event held at the National Centre for Education Resource Development (NCERD) in Kingston, Georgetown, in response to a statement issued by Caribbean representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The UNICEF Representatives, in a recent statement, called on Education Ministers and the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) to adjust the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) Examinations and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) due to COVID-19.
Recommendations they offered include those offered before by the Caribbean Union of Teachers Union (CUT), including:
- Paper 1 should only test rationalized topics that are tested in Paper 2 and not the entire syllabi as the said syllabi would not have been completed;
- For Paper 2, remove all hurdles including compulsory questions and ensure that no one question item should test two or more content areas;
- Extend the start of the examination by three weeks and release the rationalized board topics immediately to students and teachers in order to facilitate effective preparation.
Further, they called on Education Ministers in Caribbean countries to expand and intensify mental health and psychosocial support for children preparing for the examinations; confirm placement in schools and offset financial costs for children who defer sitting the examination until next year; and, clarify how the prevalence of COVID-19 cases will be taken into consideration.
The representatives, however, acknowledged that efforts are being made by CXC to reduce certain examination requirements and make concessions for students.
“What they (the UNICEF Representatives) are asking for is good, that we make sure we have psychosocial support for children who are writing these exams, that we make sure we support kids in every way,” Minister Manickchand said.
But, she also noted that the local education ministry was not consulted on the statement, though the Representative of the UNICEF Office for Guyana, Nicolas Pron, was one of the representatives who signed the statement.
“If we were (consulted), we would have been able to offer some insight on what’s being done here as well as, some of the things being asked for have already been decided by CXC,” the Education Minister said.
Speaking about local efforts made to ensure that students are not disadvantaged as they prepare to sit the CSEC and CAPE examinations, she reminded members of the media that students in the examination classes- that is, Forms Four, Five and Six – were allowed to return to schools while all other level remained closed for in-person teaching.
This has allowed for the timely completion of School-Based Assessments (SBAs) which, Manickchand said, are “in order and ready.”
“Most of our students hold the view that they want to write the exams this year,” the minister highlighted.
She hastened to add, however, that the local education authorities are not insensitive to the plight of students in other Caribbean countries who may not have been able to benefit from similar response systems put in place by the local authorities.
The UNICEF Representatives did not advocate for a deferral of the examinations to next year in their statement but lamented that the current pandemic context has further exacerbated the gaps in preparedness amongst the most disadvantaged students.
“This year, there is a higher risk of those students in vulnerable conditions never sitting the exams. This could seriously affect not only their further education at higher secondary or tertiary levels, but their future,” the statement read.
Continued partial or full school closures and difficulties in accessing online learning challenges were key challenges raised by the representatives, who pointed out the disproportionate effect of the pandemic. Importantly, the negative impact of natural disasters, such as the volcanic eruption in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on students, was highlighted too.
“Teachers, parents and students themselves repeatedly expressed their worries about the low levels of preparedness, as the pandemic and the related impact on education prevented students from attaining learning outcomes as desired,” the statement related.
In the local context, however, Minister Manickchand emphasised that efforts have been made to prepare students for these examinations. She also noted that rounds of consultations have guided the interventions and decisions made by the ministry.
“We may have different views and that is why I said that while the UNICEF representative from Guyana, who is also responsible for Suriname and Trinidad, has signed that statement, it does not necessarily reflect what we in the ministry feel but we support anything that supports children,” Manickchand said.
Meanwhile, the UNICEF statement also affirmed that UNICEF is committed to supporting ongoing efforts but underscored that equity and inclusivity are important, especially for those children and young people, who are now at heightened risk of being left behind.
“We also stand ready to support and accompany the Ministries of Education in the respective Caribbean countries to provide technical support in further developing and implementing the proposed changes,” the statement concluded.