Trinidad and Tobago

My concerns about July exams

Letters to the Editor
Newsday

THE EDITOR: As an educator with over 30 years of teaching experience I have serious concerns about the decision by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) to undertake examinations in July using the multiple-choice format for both the CSEC and CAPE levels. 

The decision to have the examinations while some of the Caribbean territories are still in the throes of the covid19 pandemic seems to be an extremely hasty decision. 

As of May 12, Jamaica has had over 500 covid19 cases with some apparent community spread. At the time of writing not one country had opened its schools and several countries were still in some form of lockdown, with TT starting a phased reopening of businesses.

My concerns are:

1. Students have been out of school since March 13 in Trinidad, a period of eight weeks. Is it fair to expect students to automatically shift into exam mode in July and get ready for examinations with no prior contact with their teachers? I do not think so.

2. Teaching is about a lot more than content. Many of our teachers are aware of students who are emotionally stressed at this point in time. 

Parents are out of jobs, students are hungry, children are out of the routine of schoolwork, some students have parents who are trapped abroad on cruise ships or in foreign countries, some students have lost family members to the dreaded virus. 

How can we expect these children to be ready for a major examination after three months of being at home under these circumstances?

We have been through a pandemic. Many of my students have spoken to me about the emotional stress they have been through. Education is not merely digesting data.

3. As a teacher of geography, I cannot conceive of an examination that tests my senior students simply with multiple choice. We have spent countless classes discussing the approach to writing analytical essays and interpreting topographical maps. There is no way this should be tested simply using a multiple-choice examination. Not at the advanced or CSEC levels. 

Within my department we also teach sociology and history, both of which are largely assessed using critical essays. In practical subjects like technical drawing and clothing and textiles, how does one assess the skill level of the students? 

I cannot imagine that A-Level scholarships will be awarded this year based on these examinations. Will those results be valid? 

If a multiple-choice examination is not seen as suitable for our Standard Five students for SEA, how could it be seen to be suitable for our oldest students leaving secondary school?

4. I do not see the need for the rush to hold examinations. We have a regional examination body and a regional university. Why can’t we co-ordinate between both and come up with working solutions when the worst of the pandemic is over in our region? 

I suggest that no student should be forced to write an examination after such an extended period at home without some contact time with their subject teachers.

5. I suggest that all schools are closed for this term. Teaching for examination classes could start before all other classes. The students in Forms 4, 5 and 6, along with those in Standards Four and Five, could be brought out a month before the other students. 

This could happen as early as August once we have flattened the curve in Trinidad. Their examinations could be held at the end of August or September. There could be a staggered restart to the primary and secondary school term with first-year, Form One and Lower Sixth students entering in January.

6. The University of the West Indies could accept first-year students in January for its first semester and the second semester could follow a similar pattern to the current “summer” semester.

7. I do believe there is a need for thorough discussion by educators, principals, parents, counsellors, students and administrators on this matter so as to look after the best interest of our nation’s children at this unprecedented time.

ALISON DEANE-SMITH

head, Modern Studies Department

St Francois Girls College

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