NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Tensions continued to boil over the weekend amongst education stakeholders following the announcement that national examinations will be held on July 13.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced the new date last week for BJCs and BGCSEs after weeks of school closures, virtual learning procedures, and uncertainty over whether national testing would be canceled.
An online petition calling for the cancellation of national exams had garnered more than 8,000 signatures as of yesterday.
Dozens of teachers, parents, and students have taken to social media to voice their concerns over the readiness of students to take the test.
Some underscored students have had three years to prepare for the exams and should be ready notwithstanding the COVID-19 closures.
While others argue that students have been disadvantaged and need more time.
Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) President Belinda Wilson has acknowledged concerns over the announcement of exam dates and recently advised members that summer break begins on June 19.
In a post last week, veteran educator Elma Garraway issued her support for the decision.
Garraway was a former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, and her post was shared to the Ministry of Education’s Facebook page.
“The schools in Barbados will open on Monday, 8th June to facilitate the writing of their national exams,” Garraway’s post read.
“Undoubtedly, the schools in The Bahamas will be ready at least by July to write the BGCSE 2020 exams.
“Our Ministry of Education, the independent schools, assessment and evaluation section, administrators, teachers, parents, and students are no less competent than their Caribbean counterparts.”
However, Wilson fired back insisting that the two country’s education system cannot be compared.
“I am very surprised that you found it necessary to comment publicly about the competence of The Bahamas to be ready for the sitting of BGCSE exams in July 2020,” Wilson said.
The BUT president noted that teachers in Barbados do not mark or invigilate exams, and those invigilators consist of people from the general public or retired teachers.
The invigilators are paid by the Caribbean Examinations Council, Wilson said.
Wilson furthered the CXC exams has been modified to two papers, while her union’s request to modify both the BJCs and BGCSEs has been “ignored”.
“Instead of posting on the MOE page your time may be better-utilized training and guiding the Director of Education on the process, procedures, and protocols of an effective leader in a COVID19 school system,” Wilson added.
The government announced the closure of schools on March 15, after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country.
However, following soon after schools closed officials quickly recognized a disparity in the delivery of education.
In April, the government launched its Virtual Learning Programme, along live television sessions for junior high and high school students.
Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd has said the pandemic has created a tremendous learning gap in the country.
Officials believe the disparity in students receiving education amidst the pandemic was due to the lack of access to interconnectivity or devices or both that has disadvantage thousands of students.
This was said to be reflected in the 4,000 students who take part in the lunch voucher program.
Last month, the government received a donation of some 4,300 tablets preloaded with internet connectivity.
Former BUT President Kingsley Black also chimed in on the issue yesterday.
Black noted that multiple issues are at play including labour relations.
He insisted that the BJC examinations do not have to be rushed and can be deferred and done before December, while BGCSE exams for the 2020 graduating class must be the priority.
Black said the ministry and the BUT must discuss the fact that July is usually vacation time for teachers.
“I think the ministry made the right decision to hold the BGCSE exams as soon as is practical,” he added.
“Students who are not ready to sit their exams can do them next cycle, but those who are ready should not be made to wait unnecessarily”.