Education officials preparing for a September opening of schools
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Director of Education Marcellus Taylor said yesterday that end of year school examinations have been cancelled due to the continued closure of schools across the country amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The decision comes two and a half months after The Bahamas recorded its first case of the virus.
In an interview with Eyewitness News, Taylor said final end of year grades will be based on academic performance and grades of students in school up until mid-March and performance in the virtual learning programs made available via the ministry, for those who have participated.
As it relates to the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE), Taylor said a decision will be made at the cut-off point: June 12.
“The decision around the national exams is that the exams are not just being cancelled; they are not cancelled,” he said.
“What the decision around it is that we don’t know what the situation will be with the exams, so the decision was made to postpone.
“But what we did say was we cannot continue to not give people a date, so what the ministry was going to do was say to the public that June 12th is the date by which we will make a decision as to whether the exams will be cancelled or whether they will go ahead.
“If, when June 12th comes, there is no clear understanding; let’s say for instance, we’re still in ‘Phase 1B’ then by that time we can say we’ll have to cancel the exams because there is no way we would be ready what what we consider to be our absolute cut-off, which is just after Independence in July.
“BGCSE takes two months to execute, so we don’t really want the exams to go into the next school year because it will create another set of problems.”
He said cancellation of the exams is a final resort, but given that the exam takes two months to execute, if the country is not in the reopened phase to facilitate the exams at that point, the decision to cancel will be made.
In the event of cancellation, this would means students awaiting the national exams would have to wait until the next sitting.
Asked about students having to wait the next sitting of the BGCSE if the national exam has to be cancelled, Taylor said it is considered a last resort, but there are unique challenges as a result of the pandemic.
“We don’t have the ability at this point to do all these things that people like to say like we don’t have the ability to do the online exams because we can’t verify the integrity, and we don’t know when you are doing an exam at home that a student is not consulting books,” Taylor said.
“We can’t verify that, so we can’t do it.”
The Bahamas remains in ‘Phase 1B’ on the government reopening plan.
Schools closed in March and launched virtual learning in early April.
‘Phase 3’ of the plan would see schools opened and national exams conducted “based on appropriate social distancing and masks”, according t o the six-phase plans.
Last Sunday, the prime minister has said officials were eyeing a possible reopening for commercial travel on or before July 1 — ‘Phase 5’ on the reopening plan.
Yesterday, Taylor said based on this, education officials will make preparations to open the schools, including commencing repairs and cleaning, for September.
“We know we have to reopen schools at some point in time right
“We do not know yet what the situation will be, but based on some of the signs we’re seeing; the prime minister saying July 1, and hotels preparing for July 1, there is some sense that by September — which is our normal opening time —things might be up and running. So, rather that not being ready the idea was to let’s think about how we could be ready and what might be some of the things we might consider.”
When schools reopen, Taylor said to facilitate social distancing, if the measure is still required, blended learning was being explored where a percentage of students could attend classes, while another grouping could join virtually, and alternate.
The Bahamas Union of Teachers met with Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd this week.
In a statement, the union said it was agreed the final exams and BGCSE exams would be cancelled.
It also said there was no confirmed date for graduations, but it was agreed that graduations will be held virtually and there would be a one-hour national graduation.
The suggested date for these were June 25 and June 29 respectively.
Yesterday, Taylor said protocols, training for janitorial staff and consultation with the Department of the Environmental Health and social distancing protocols were also being considered.
He said it was decided that there would be a virtual national graduation activity.
He said it was previously the view that there would be no school-based or district based graduations, but the thinking now there should be some observance of students reaching the milestone.
Taylor said: “While it might not be a graduation, it might be permitted that they can have some kind of acknowledgement of it, although it might not be considered a graduation.”
The union also expressed concern about the confirmations from 2019 not being completed and requested for employees entitled to be confirmed before the opening of the 2020/2021 school year.
According to the union, the ministry assured every effort was being made to resolve the matter.