Being shut in all day and all night might have you confused, so here's your reality check: it's late April. The novel CoronaVirus (COVID-19) continues to ravage the world, with a daily increase in positive cases in Jamaica but an apparent slowing of the spread in other Caribbean countries.
With Ministry of Health and Wellness campaigns about mental health and the stigma surrounding mental illness in prime advertising slots during the nation's nightly newscasts, one might be lead to believe that we now live in a progressive nation that prioritises full wellness and total health. Isn't it, then, just totally bananas, bonkers, bizarre that so little has been decided and disseminated regarding examinations and the end of the 2019/2020 school year?
In all the rush to get groceries, to shut ourselves inside and to secure masks and hand sanitizer this important issue should not be forgotten or overlooked. Students matter too. We matter too.
As the nation looks into the abyss of a continued uptick in cases and possibly longer, extended lockdowns, or alternately, looks with hope to a decrease in COVID-19 cases as we seek to flatten the curve, the 'normal' this nation knew prior to March 2020 has slipped through our fingers. Fear, panic and stress are rife, and so are their effects. The old 'normal' is no longer available and we continue to recognise almost daily that we can't (and perhaps shouldn't) return to it as soon as we'd like, no matter how much we say it or pray it.
We need answers.
Across the nation, thousands and thousands of students were expected to graduate, achieve educational milestones, matriculate to different levels of education and matriculate to different institutions this year. Summer 2020 was about to be lit with graduations, parties, festivities, beach runs and road trips….and now just like that gathering with more than ten friends is wildly unsafe and can get you in a lot of legal trouble. And just like that exams are postponed or up in the air and even asking about graduation plans is taboo.
Sure, adults (breadwinners or not) have a lot on their plates right now, but adults aren't the only ones that are stressed. As children and teens we are completely dependent on the adults around us, which, arguably can be stressful in its own right. If mummy doesn't get any bread at the store we have no bread. If daddy gets dismissed from his job or comes home yet another day with no money earned, it affects us too. We can see and feel the frustration of our guardians and can do precious little to ease it or fix the problem. As we prepare to return to online classes or our distance learning programmes on April 22, we continue to have homework and daily tasks to complete for school all while hearing of loved ones at home and abroad becoming sick and struggling to obtain food and necessary medication. It all takes a toll, only further compounded by not knowing.
We need reasonable decisions to be made regarding the end of this school year and the format of testing to be employed, and we need to know what those decisions are. We suggest that the format for testing our grasp of the year's learning material takes into consideration this unprecedented era of disease, death and uncertainty, as well as the fact that for many learning has been disrupted since the closure of schools.
At key levels of education – PEP, CAPE and CSEC – there are projects, IAs and SBAs. Much like CXC's plan for CSEC and CAPE, we believe that the scores obtained from assessments and projects already completed this school year can and should be used in place of traditional pen-and-paper, you-have-five-minutes-remaining-exams. In the case of the Primary Exit Profile, some exams over the course of the 2018/2019 school year and the 2019/2020 school year have already been conducted, and it may be satisfactory to use those scores to determine matriculation and secondary school placement, rather than pretend that pen-and-paper exams are still a viable option this year, let alone any time before September.
Online timed, multiple choice and short answer exams may also be a possibility worth exploring at any level of education, but the digital divide must be carefully considered and students who have had their learning disrupted because of poor or non-connectivity should not be disadvantaged, greatly inconvenienced or punished for such. And in the case of non-exit exams, there's always the possibility of awarding every student a pass and allowing them to move on…..
Whatever is decided, it's April. April comes before May which comes before June. We need a decision.