Government gets pushback over plans for July exams

Controversy has erupted over the government’s decision to set national exams for next month, with some parents, students and even educators speaking out against it while others believe the exams should go ahead.

During a COVID-19 update press conference last week, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that national exams will take place on July 13.

But Matrena Laing, the mother of a 12th grader on Grand Bahama, said the decision is not fair for the students, especially those who had to endure Hurricane Dorian in September.

“I think they should not do it now,” Laing said.

“These children haven’t had an opportunity to get back in the classroom. First and foremost, we went through Dorian, and it took them a minute to get back in school after that storm.

“And they didn’t have much time in school to prepare and now they’re out because of the pandemic, so I really don’t think it’s fair to the children to do the exam in July.”

Hundreds of similar comments were made on an online petition created on the Change.org website after Minnis’ announcement.

The petition is seeking 10,000 signatures in favor of canceling the national exams altogether and having the Ministry of Education use forecasted grades instead.

Up to press time, there were nearly 8,000 signatures.

Several senior high school students The Nassau Guardian spoke with also said they felt frustrated with having this obligation demanded of them when they have already been enduring little to no normalcy in a year that would have seen them transitioning on to pursue college careers.

Schools were closed in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting schools to move classes online.

Former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Elma Garraway, however, has expressed confidence in the students’ abilities to sit the exams.

In a social media post that was shared on the Ministry of Education’s official social media page, Garraway drew comparison with students in Barbados who will be taking their national exams in the upcoming months.

“Undoubtedly, the schools in The Bahamas will be ready at least by July to write the BGCSE 2020 exams,” she wrote.

“Our Ministry of Education, the independent schools, assessment and evaluation section administrators, teachers, parents and students are no less competent than their Caribbean counterparts.”

Director of Education Marcellus Taylor also spoke to the need to provide graduating students in particular with credentials which he said are helpful for those who do not go on to college but instead enter the workforce right after high school.

“Remember, we talk about students going to university, but for some of these students, this is it,” he said.

“They will not go directly into college or further studies, they will try to enter the world of work. And it would be irresponsible of us, if we could help it, to not give the students an opportunity to get a credential to give them [a chance], to enable them to go to their employer and say, ‘I have this credential that says I can do X, Y and Z; so, therefore, I should have an opportunity for a job’.”

But some students said they feel unprepared not just mentally, but emotionally as well; and that they feel the government is not taking that aspect of their well-being into account.

With most of the typical senior traditions, like school proms or signing each others’ yearbooks, off the agenda due to social distancing measures still in place over COVID-19, students said they were looking forward to a “normal” summer break.

The issue of summer break is one that Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) President Belinda Wilson raised as well, in a voice note to union members after Minnis’ announcement.

“All I want to say to you this evening, as your president, is that school closes for teachers for the summer break on Friday, June 19, 2020, and it closes for students on Friday, June 12,” Wilson said.

“[S]o on July 13, you will be on your summer break…which you are entitled to.”

Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd is expected to address the matter during a press conference this morning, and Wilson said she will speak more after hearing his comments.

However, she has previously suggested that the exams be held later in the year – an idea that Laing supports.

“Maybe they should wait until maybe the end of the year, give the students an opportunity to get back in school,” Laing said.

“Now the problem is, for those 12th graders, I know they’re graduating but I don’t think they should penalize them for those exams.”

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