Exam headache!

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Exam headache!

Students list stress, mental health challenges, in handling CXC obstacles

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Senior staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 17, 2020

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STUDENTS across Jamaica are on tenterhooks as they wait with bated breath to learn their fate regarding external examinations, following the Government's decision to forfeit participation in the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) assessments slated for July.

Aleisha Salmon, a grade 12 student at Meadowbrook High, told the Jamaica Observer that since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) forced the physical closure of schools, she has been worried and fearful as she is not certain what will obtain with the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE).

“To be honest, it has been feeling like a roller-coaster. At one point I am wondering should I study, should I take a break, should I wait and see? There is no zeal and not a lot of enthusiasm to continue the learning process. It has been up and down and affects my mental health,” Salmon said.

She added: “Being successful means the most to me, so I am always fighting to be on top, always studying. Due to the fact that I am not sure what to do at this time because of the uncertainty, I have been coming off track with my studies, I am not in tune with my lessons. One day will pass and I am not studying, and it feels really bad. There is a lot of procrastination and it plays with that part of me. I think to myself, what am I doing? I need to be prepared in case because I don't know what they will do.”

While CXC has announced that it will administer the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and CAPE exams in July, Jamaica has withdrawn its support of this due to the inequality of access to reliable Internet services for some students.

But, on Friday local high school principals voted in favour of the examinations being held in July/August as announced by CXC. It is still unclear whether the Government's decision will change.

Further, Salmon, a science student who has her sight set on becoming a dermatologist, explained that preparation through online classes has proved to be challenging.

“Overall, I can say I am not 100 per cent confident going into an exam in short order, but on a scale of one to 10 I would say I am an eight. I have heard of some students having online classes, but I don't know what is happening to my teachers. I haven't had any online class really. It is basically self-learning. We have WhatsApp groups and when we converse in those groups either the teacher is having some Wi-Fi Internet connection issues or the class is scheduled and then something comes up on the teacher's end. However, I am ready if there should be an online class,” Salmon said.

The lower sixth form student also pointed out that the nature of her coping mechanisms has been altered.

“When school was in session, we had a table where we would sit around and put all our problems on the table as friends. We sought advice from peers and parents. We don't really get academic counselling so that was our means. I am still in contact with my friends, but we speak mostly about school-related stuff. It is also more difficult to talk to peers at home. Most things you would talk to your friends about at school you wouldn't feel comfortable talking at home,” Salmon said, while stating that another challenge is completing the science labs without direct supervision or clarity on what is required.

Overall, the lower sixth form student said she has tried to remain positive despite the odds.

“I have tried to not think about all the things that will be disadvantageous to me. I know I was doing all I should. I am just focusing on myself. I will continue to prepare and study as you don't know what the future holds. I also want to encourage my peers to do what we do best and focus on ourselves and our work that if they should put something on us, we will be ready,” she said.

Jamaica College (JC) student Sonjay White, who resides in Gibbs Hill, St Mary, has described the new mode of learning as “on and off”.

“So far it has been on and off until my school helped me. My community is not really deep in St Mary, but it is not close to the well-developed parts. Sometimes [Internet] signal might chip out for a day regardless of me having the data. Sometimes I can't access classes and sometimes communication gets difficult. I couldn't buy data on a daily basis or every other day. I couldn't afford that, and that caused me to miss out on classes and miss out on the material sent. So I reached out to my school and they helped me and provided a one-month plan for me. Since then, I have been able to access my classes, my materials and I have been doing a lot better. I have been catching up,” White, who had been without Internet access for close to a month, said.

As it relates to content and course work, White missed a number of timed quizzes and deadlines for assignments, which could not be submitted at a later date.

“They are timed to help you show economy of time. I was unable to re-access it so I tried my best to do better on the ones I got in the future,” he said.

As for the CXC exams, White said he has mixed emotions.

“I am unhappy about it because I have been going to school all these years to lead up to this moment. This is the main exam and it is a very important one because it determines a lot of my future. I have been going to school for so many years for this moment, just to find out it might not happen. I'm also kind of happy because I am not prepared for the stress that comes with the exam, so there would be mixed emotions,” he said, while pointing out that he hopes to attend sixth form, then go to university to pursue a business major.

White also used the opportunity to express thanks to JC for the help, as without it he would be further behind in lessons.

Meanwhile, students in St Mary remain on the fence as to whether or not they would want to sit the CSEC exam this year.

“It's okay with me because in that case you would have to do it another year and you would have a better chance of doing well,” Daniella Lawrence, a grade 11 business student at Annotto Bay High, said.

While the experience with school closure and online classes has not been negative for her, not being able to graduate is disappointing. Lawrence, however, said that if the cancellation of graduation equates to safety then she gives it her full support.

“What has to be done, has to be done to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Lawrence said.

Raniel Smith, another grade 11 student at Annotto Bay High, shared that his plan is to repeat his final year in high school.

“It will set me back a little, but I had planned to repeat fifth form because of all this COVID-19 issue,” Smith said.

Smith's main challenge includes Internet access and the lack of interpersonal connection that the classroom brings.

“I don't have any service, but with the help of friends and some family members I get access to hot spots to get the classes. But, I would rather be at school than online [because] mi get all a mi notes dem [and] you can look over back instead of online where sometimes you don't have the Internet,” he said.

Shanthornie Simms, a grade 11 student at Marymount High, said not being trained to do online classes has gravely affected her and her ability to keep up with classes.

“I am used to face-to-face classes and right now I am having challenges because I live in an area that doesn't have any Wi-Fi and that has affected my access to classes. Most teachers have classes on Zoom and I can't really access them because of the poor connection. I have missed some content as most are explained there. Others are sent in handouts and after I download them, which can take hours, the class has moved on,” she said.

For Simms, scrapping the CXC exams this year would be beneficial to her.

“It would be good because most of us are not prepared to do an online exam. The new strategy – we were not prepared for it. Knowing about CXC we knew about SBA (School-Based Assessment), paper one and paper two. Some people are really strong on paper one while others are strong at explaining their points. I would prefer if it stays till a little further when we are more prepared,” she said.

In terms of setbacks, Simms said while that would be difficult for her parents, having a better shot at the exams would pay off in the long run.

“It would be more expensive for our parents because they did not plan to send us to high school for six years or seven years,” Simms, who has two younger siblings, said.

Notwithstanding the current conditions, Simms hopes to become an executive chef and plans to go to HEART Trust/NTA, work, then send herself to university abroad to take the pressure off her parents.

In St Andrew, Krissan Spaulding, a grade nine student at Meadowbrook High, said her greatest challenge thus far is selecting the subjects she will be pursuing at the CSEC level.

“It is a struggle for the most part because I can't get to know which subject I should select although I am a bit sure. But I don't really have the feeling for majority of the subjects I want to pick,” Spaulding said while explaining that the conviction needed to confidently make her selection is not yet there.

She added: “For instance, biology. You only know a part of the subject [and] you're not finished with the syllabus, so you don't know if you should pick the subject or not.”

When asked about access to guidance counsellors who could provide some level of direction, Spaulding said while she could speak to them in Google Classroom, the issue of privacy hinders that.

“You're in Google Classroom with everyone, so I can't really get to ask questions privately and I don't have the e-mail address so I can't really talk to her, but I could get that from the grade coordinator,” she said.

Overall, adjusting to this new normal has been difficult for Spaulding.

“On a daily basis we get the work and we have to send in the assignments without fully understanding the subject and there are only like three Zoom classes where I understand the subject and can talk to the teacher over the Internet. You get the work and have to read and understand it by yourself,” she said.

In addition, Spaulding said many of her peers have taken this period as an extended holiday and show little to no interest in learning.

“Online classes aren't the best for lower school. Majority don't attend the classes. They always have problems or just don't want to go to the class. Certain children take it as free time where they just sit at home, watch shows and don't take it serious,” she said.

While online learning has its advantages, Spaulding remains resolute that face-to-face instruction is best.

“I prefer face-to-face learning because I can speak to teachers, understand and they show me where I go wrong. With online or distance learning I can send the questions, but they aren't answered right away. It is very hard, and right now I have to stand up for myself and try my best to use more than one website to understand the content. If I don't do that I am going to drop back,” Spaulding said.


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