High schools students across Jamaica and the wider Caribbean are currently on-edge following the Caribbean Examination Council’s (CXC) decision to have regional examinations in July.
The exams are usually held in May and June each year, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closures of virtually all high schools in the region in March, and significantly delayed students’ preparation for exams.
In late April, CXC announced that it would offer online and paper-bases options for the 2020 examinations, for countries that cannot have students sit exams in-person. The exams will be administered in July, with the results to be made available by early September.
But students across the region, local educational bodies and governments have disagreed with the decision.
The Barbados government blasted CXC, saying that their decision was not in the best interest of the students, and requested that the exams be suspended.
In Jamaica, the Minister of Education, Karl Samuda, said that the Jamaican government could not endorse the decision because of the impact that COVID-19 has had on the education sector. The island has been the hardest hit by COVID-19 of all the CARICOM islands, and where other countries could allow students to physically allow to the exams, the risk in Jamaica is far greater.
“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.
“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,” Samuda said.
Schools on the island have been closed since March 13 and have transferred to online learning to allow students to finish the school year. But the new system of learning has been an overwhelming challenge for the ministry of education, students and parents. At the time when the government announced the closure of schools, provisions had not yet been made for all students to successfully transfer to online learning. Thus many students, especially those who live in rural areas where internet access in scare, were at a disadvantage.
In April, Samuda had said that there were some 31,000 students on the island without access to the internet and that provisions were being made through companies like ReadyTV, Digicel, Flow, to provide wider access to internet services and discounted data plans. Other companies have also been helping to distribute tablets and laptops. And although these provisions have helped students, Samuda says July examinations are still not feasible.
Since the announcement of the new exam date, CXC officials and the Jamaican government have participated in discussions to come up with a solution for the island.
In most countries, the exams are a way for high schoolers to matriculate to local and regional universities, much like how the SATs function in America.
But if Jamaica, the largest CARICOM island, is excluded from July’s examinations, it means that almost half of the students registered for the CSEC exams will not sit the exams in July. In 2019, of the 125,000 students that were registered for the exams, more than 61,000 or 49% were Jamaicans.