Rishanna Lambert, teacher at the St. Ignatius Secondary School.
GEORGETOWN, Guyana--There is a balance that must be found between the advancement of student education in Guyana and the nation’s safety. However, the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) believes that this balance is at risk, based on the recent decisions of the Caribbean Examinations Council CXC Administration.
On May 8, CARICOM’s Council for Human and Social Development COHSOD and the CXC Administration agreed that Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) and Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence (CCSLC) students would be writing their examinations in July.
Examinations will be administered via an e-Testing modality in equipped countries while the unequipped will write paper-based examinations. This news did not sit well with educators in several Caribbean countries and their collective views were expressed by the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT).
CUT believes that thousands of students and teachers will be put at risk regarding health and safety; technological and infrastructure limitations; the validity of the exam’s proposed format; psychological support and the uncertainty of COVID-19 in the Region.
CUT proposes a September timeline, believing that this would allow countries enough time to align themselves with Education International (EI) established protocols such as the wearing of face masks, social distancing and sanitary practices.
No room for e-Testing
When it comes to Guyana, GTU President Mark Lyte said there are a number of areas where there is cause for worry. For starters, Lyte said he is unaware of any school in Guyana that is capable of meeting the e-Testing modality without challenges.
He pointed not only to a lack of sufficient equipment but no provision for stand-by generators in the case of power outages; no provision for pre-training for non-tech-savvy students and challenges related to access to Internet, both on the coastland and in the hinterland.
“I don’t see any school in Guyana, presently – and I can speak confidently about Queen’s College (QC) and President’s College (PC) or The Bishops – none of those schools would have the necessary infrastructure to treat with an online exam at this moment,” he said.
“I see the majority, maybe 95 per cent of the learner population, being unable to do an online exam either because of their geographic location, because of a lack of equipment – which would be computers or iPads – and also the issue of Internet connection.”
Sharing this view was Rishanna Lambert, a teacher all the way in the Rupununi Savannah at the St. Ignatius Secondary School. “I believe the pandemic is more serious than most persons are taking it to be. The exam should be postponed until further notice. I believe that students have not been properly prepared for this 2020 CSEC or CAPE exam. In the area of technology, Guyana is very far behind on that subject, therefore no technological advancements have ever been put in place for the sitting of an exam completely online.”
Range of concerns
This would leave Guyanese students with no option but to participate in paper-based examinations, which also comes with great challenges. Lyte said the GTU is concerned not only about the health and safety of students, but that of teachers as well.
He reminded that Guyana has the second highest number of cases of COVID-19 in the Caribbean after Jamaica, with the latter having also requested special consideration from the CXC Administration.
Meanwhile, he said many students were behind in their work due to their inability to handle the concepts outside of the classroom setting. He told the newspaper, “That two-month period leading up to exams is the most important time for teachers because you get to finish your syllabus [and – Ed.] you begin your exam preparation and all the things that are absolutely pertinent to the examination process and the success of the students. Because of coronavirus most teachers had either just started or were about to start, so this was not done.”
Apart from these concerns, Lyte said many students need more time to complete their school-based assessments (SBAs) as every student preparing for CSEC was not able to access the online information provided by their schools or the Ministry of Education.
He explained: “Some students from PC and other schools live in far-flung regions where there is no Internet connection and because of COVID-19, they had to go back to their parents in the hinterland or riverine areas. We can’t take for granted that children have been accessing online platforms to complete their preparation.”
This is not just a concern for Guyana as news coming out of Trinidad and Tobago’s Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) highlighted that the local student population was behind on its SBAs.
Sixteen-year-old student of the St. Rose’s High School, Rondeen Rebeiro will be writing 19 CSEC subjects this year. From his perspective, the CXC Administration must fully consider the challenges faced by developing Caribbean countries such as Guyana.
“I’m concerned about the health, safety and preparation of the students because, as can be seen, CXC is only making preparation and necessary adjustments to suit themselves and the markers, since the students will still have to assemble in a classroom to get the exam done. As for the technological capacity, I think it’ll be very hard on students within the hinterland regions of countries like Guyana since a lot of them do not have access to the Internet and/or a computer,” he said, adding: “Even with students in the city, the Internet connection and [electric] current are very unreliable.”
A September timeframe
The GTU believes the students need at least six additional weeks from the set date to complete their preparation to be ready for the offline CSEC Exams. Furthermore, while the date has been set for July, he made the note that, based on the timetable, exams will actually begin on June 29. With the closure of schools in Guyana until June 3, Lyte said this is a very short period for students to catch up, in school, on what they would have missed.
The GTU, like the CUT and some others, believes that a September timeframe will be better suited to the Region’s needs. This timeline will allow the new academic year to begin in January as opposed to September.
For years, Guyana has coveted the top spot in the Region when it comes to CSEC and CAPE performances and the GTU Head said examinations in July could put this at risk. The Teachers Union has expressed its concerns to the Ministry of Education by way of letter and awaits an invitation to the “table of deliberation” on a possible alternative way forward. ~ Guyana Chronicle ~