'We are in a full-blown crisis right now'

CONCERNS that students are not meeting coursework requirements ahead of Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations scheduled to begin in May have prompted a call for Government to resume face-to-face classes for “priority students”.

Mark Malabver, principal of Yallahs High School in St Thomas, speaking with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, said the Government should consider allowing similar measures outlined for the church for school.

Churches are now allowed a maximum gathering limit of 30, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, though the general measure implemented by the Government allows only 10 people to gather.

“My biggest worry is in relation to our grade 11 [students] and their SBAs (school-based assessment). Teachers not being able to have physical access to the students to assist them with the work is a major issue. They are under tremendous stress with SBA deadlines fast approaching to come up with some way to have the SBAs completed within the time frame,” said Malabver, noting that SBAs are due to the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) by May 15.

The SBA is a set of assessment tasks, assignments and projects conducted in school, by the student following guidelines provided by CXC and assessed by the teacher using criteria provided by CXC. The SBA score contributes to the candidate's overall examination grade.

“Teachers are challenged and worried, really. The truth is, I think, the Government overlooked the issue. They have not paid enough attention to the issue. My personal view is that we are in a full-blown crisis right now,” he added.

Malabver said he has had to send desks and chairs to the homes of teachers who have “gone out on a limb” and opened up their homes to students to complete the SBAs.

“If it is that the Government could have gone to the extent that they have, in allowing churches to have up to 30 persons, why is it that schools could not have been given that level of access to their students as well? Why was consideration not given to the schools, given the fact that principals [and] teachers have been advocating for access to their students?

“We are in a crisis. We don't know what is going to happen and the responses have been muted. Nothing has been said, to be honest with you, and that is our challenge.”

He said reports of teachers completing SBAs for students are not surprising, with the suspension of face-to-face classes since March as part of new measures to contain the spread of novel coronavirus.

“SBAs determine whether or not students pass before they go into exams. So, currently, the Government is setting them up to fail,” Malabver claimed.

Meanwhile, the educator said a proposal by Opposition Senator Damion Crawford for a “CXC bubble “could work to solve the problem, although logistics and resources could prove to be a challenge.

Crawford wants face-to-face classes to be conducted in a secure, controlled environment — a bubble — in each school for students preparing to sit the CSEC and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) papers.

“A proposal I would like to make to the Government, and the prime minister, as it relates to education… is to have bubbles for those who are doing CXC,” Crawford told the Observer in a recent interview.

“Damion has gone one step ahead of what I have been advocating for... it would have some implications in terms of resources and that sort of things. If we were to go that route the students would have to be tested before they are allowed into the bubble. So, it is an idea that is worth considering, but it is something that will have to be carefully planned. It has implications for teachers, as well. How will the teachers be compensated? Who will stay with the students, and that sort of thing?” he said.

BY KIMONE FRANCIS Senior staff reporter francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

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