Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd yesterday doubled down on the government’s decision to hold national exams next month, saying that his ministry has a responsibility to do so in the best interest of students.
During a virtual press conference, Lloyd said that the BGCSE (Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education) exam is voluntary, and that students who wish to opt out can notify their school.
However, as he outlined the reasons why the Ministry of Education chose to go ahead with the exams, he also noted that some students need BGCSE results to make up for BJC (Bahamas Junior Certificate) results needed to graduate; while others may need the credentials to be competitive in the job market.
“It has always been the intention of the ministry to conduct external exams if conditions permitted,” Lloyd said.
“This is why it was repeatedly stated that the exams were postponed, not canceled. The ministry stated from the very beginning of the national lockdown, students were advised that the lockdown didn’t mean a vacation from school. Public service announcements and other media announcements made this [clear].”
But, as he said that the decision was “not an easy one”, he added: “At the end of the day, it is the Ministry of Education’s social, intellectual and legal responsibility to make provisions for the students in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to access national exams if they so choose.
“As has been repeated earlier, our commitment and guiding principle is what is in the best interest of the Bahamian student. In that regard, we have made such a decision.”
All schools in the country have been closed since mid-March, as the country recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19.
For students in schools on Grand Bahama and Abaco, the islands which were devastated during Hurricane Dorian in September, the pandemic added another obstacle after they had already been relocated to other schools in the fall.
Some parents, teachers and educators recently pushed back on the government’s decision, with some suggesting the exams be held later in the year, while others were pleading for the government to cancel this year’s exams altogether.
An online petition in favor of canceling the national exams gained over 8,000 signatures over the course of the past few days.
Lloyd acknowledged the “anxiety, disruption, stress and other disturbing variants introduced into the psyche of the Bahamian student and [their] family”, as well as challenges that might have arisen with students being able to access the virtual school.
However, he said the ministry has been providing counseling services for students ever since Dorian; and that other accommodations are being made.
“[F]or those students who do not feel prepared, the Ministry of Education will be providing opportunities for refresher courses, which the ministry will bring through either face-to-face or the virtual school, and/or both,” he said.
“Students can avail themselves of any or all of it. If they don’t have internet or device, they will be permitted, once arrangements are secured, to use devices and computer labs at their various schools or any other school. They will be required to call the schools, make an appointment and place their names down and they are free to use them.”
Bahamas Union of Teachers President Belinda Wilson, who is among those who believe the exams should be postponed, told reporters yesterday that some teachers have not even completed the school year’s curriculum.
She also claimed that some students have not completed or even started coursework necessary for the exams.
But Lloyd said the virtual school has done well, and that 86 percent of registered students were using it.
He also said that between mid-March when schools closed and the usual April start date for national exams, no new information would have been taught, which means that students would not have been disadvantaged.
Fees paid for students who choose to defer sitting the national exams until next year would be honored once the school is notified, ministry officials said during the conference.
But students who choose not to sit the exams would be considered to be “absent” for the exam.
The exams will also follow social distancing protocols in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s guidelines.
As for teachers, some of whom expressed concern about the exams being scheduled for July 13 when they would be on summer break, Lloyd said they would be compensated for working on the exams.
‘Exams were postponed, not canceled’