Feature
Principal, Kingston College, Dave Myrie (left), addresses students at the reopening of the school plant on June 8 when physical classes had resumed to further assist students who had been engaged in online learning in preparation for their Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) examinations. Mr. Myrie says that though some challenges were experienced due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, his students have expressed that they are ready for their exams, starting Monday (July 13).
Photo: Michael Sloley

Story Highlights

  • Virtual learning, the wearing of masks, keeping physically distant from their peers and others, and constantly washing and sanitising hands, are elements of a new reality that students have had to adapt to as they prepared to sit their Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) examinations.
  • This is due to the advent of the highly contagious coronavirus (COVID-19) that has wreaked havoc on the world and resulted in school plants being closed for approximately four months; potentially completely derailing teaching and learning.
  • However, the Government has seen to it that come Monday (July 13) approximately 74,904 students will be ready to sit their Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) examinations. A number of students will also be sitting international examinations.

Virtual learning, the wearing of masks, keeping physically distant from their peers and others, and constantly washing and sanitising hands, are elements of a new reality that students have had to adapt to as they prepared to sit their Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) examinations.

This is due to the advent of the highly contagious coronavirus (COVID-19) that has wreaked havoc on the world and resulted in school plants being closed for approximately four months; potentially completely derailing teaching and learning.

However, the Government has seen to it that come Monday (July 13) approximately 74,904 students will be ready to sit their Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) examinations. A number of students will also be sitting international examinations.

The disruption in learning at the physical school plant could have greatly impeded the ability of some students to continue their education, but with interventions by the Government through their schools, they have managed adopt to this new way of life.

One student who has taken this turn of events in stride is Tameka Smith of Tivoli Gardens High School in Kingston who tells JIS News that even though she lost some study time when the school plant was closed, she continued to work on finishing up her School Based Assessment (SBA), which contributes to students’ final grades.

She notes that since June, she and her colleagues who practiced as a team, began working on past papers and completing SBAs for submission.

Though Tameka faced some difficulties with studying in the daytime due to loud music blaring in her Denham Town community, “I chose to study at night when I know that everybody is asleep”.

She says she is grateful for the assistance she got from her school, when the physical campuses were reopened on June 8 to accommodate students sitting CXC examinations.

“When school reopened, our teachers sat with us, (went) through the SBAs with us, let us understand what needs to be done, let us revise, go through past papers with us. Our school (greatly) assisted us,” she says.

Keeping a positive attitude, Tameka, who will be sitting eight CSEC subjects and three London-based City and Guilds examinations, says she continues to pray “and hope that things will get better”.

“We (took the time) to rebuild that structure to study and to focus more in school and to aim for the best in our exams,” she says.

Her school mate, Tavanie Jeffery, who is a Lower 6th form student, tells JIS News that the preparation leading up to exams “was rough” for him.

“When Prime Minister (the Most Hon. Andrew Holness) had announced that schools were going to be closed on March 13, we were on the verge of completing our SBAs and…it was very difficult (as) I do not have any electronic device at home that I could try and use to complete my SBA. I depended on the school for that,” he shares.

Tavanie however, did not sit on his hands during the period of the school’s closure, which he admits is the longest he has ever been out of school, but reached out to his principal, Marvin Johnson for assistance, who then provided him with CAPE texts books which helped to guide him in his studies.

The ambitious student, who will be sitting three CAPE subjects, already has six CSEC subjects to his credit.

Tavanie realised that he would require more assistance so he was elated at the news of the reopening of schools, even though his parents “didn’t want me to go back to school because of how contagious the disease is and how rapidly it spreads”.

“I had to go to school because my Internal Assessment (IA), wasn’t finished and I had to go to school to finish up those,” he notes.

Another Tivoli Gardens High student, Maurice Neil, also expressed gratitude to his school for the assistance he received in his preparation for the eight subjects he will be sitting, particularly when the plant reopened.

“I have been doing revision classes with my teachers at school which has been very helpful to us students as we get the chance to gain additional understanding on topics that were unclear. We are now studying, reading through our notes and doing past papers from previous years,” the 11th grade student says.

In the meantime, Principal Johnson tells JIS News that he and his staff ensured that all the necessary arrangements were put in place to facilitate continued learning for the 240 Tivoli Gardens High students who will be sitting examinations this year.

“We continued to engage students virtually through WhatsApp, Zoom and other online platforms. Those without internet access, were provided with learning packages that they picked up from school,” he says.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information provided the necessary resources needed to support remote learning. This included providing capacity building support for principals and teachers to support remote learning during the closure of schools and to supplement instructional hours with a blended model where schools were operating on partial or otherwise adapted schedules.

Mr. Johnson also notes that prior to the official re-opening of school, students who had challenges completing their SBA, were allowed to use the computer labs at school in small groups of five, while observing all COVID-19 protocols.

“Throughout the reopening of school in June, the students were scheduled for face-to-face engagements with their teachers, observing all the social distancing guidelines. Students were also provided with lunch at no cost to them. This was made possible through donors and supplementation by the school,” he informs.

In addition, in keeping with the COVID-19 protocols, Mr. Johnson informs that all visitors to the campus could not enter without a mask and their temperatures were checked and their hands sanitised upon entry.

He also notes that wash stations have been set up at strategic points on the compound and were equipped with sanitisers, soap and hand towels. He adds that the school hall and the library, which are the designated exam-sitting areas, will be arranged to accommodate students based on distancing rules.

“A holding area…in the form of a tent (was also set up), for persons who show particular symptoms; it is at this zone that students will await parent pick-ups,” he informs.

Mr. Johnson also notes that posters with COVID-19 sensitisation tips were placed at various points on the compound. Hand sanitisers, in addition to the ones placed at the wash stands, are to be made readily available by roving staff members.

Additionally, to reduce the discomfort of extended wear of masks, areas were identified as points where students can safely remove masks for a period of time if there is a need.

“The ancillary and canteen staff were able to react readily to the (Education Youth and Information) Ministry’s request by coming in to sanitise and organise spaces. The Ministry’s assistance was well received in that they provided personal protection equipment (PPE), sanitisers and other materials and resources. We also supplemented that,” he informs.

The Education Ministry has provided resources to facilitate the deep cleaning of plants and the provision of wash stations, cleaning agents and other resources needed to ensure that infection prevention and control measures are maintained in the school environment.

Mr. Johnson also notes that training was conducted with ancillary and security staff, and students were advised about what would be expected of them and were assured that if masks were not available from home, they would be provided at the school.

“The school nurse, having adhered to the recommendations by the Ministry of Health/Education was able to assist with sensitisation and training of staff to cope with sanitisation, administration of pressure checks and organising space,” he informs.

Turning to some of the challenges experienced during the period, Mr. Johnson notes that representatives from the schools had to conduct home visits in order to get in touch with some of the students who it was found were experiencing some serious challenges including no internet access or device to use, as their parents could not afford this expense. The school was however able to offer assistance, including the provision of bus fare, courtesy of some teachers.

He notes that some students were grateful for the brief return to face-to-face teaching and learning tasks and other forms of assistance and “now feel more comfortable entering the exam room”.

For Dave Myrie, Principal of Kingston College, where 617 students will be sitting CSEC and CAPE exams from Grades 10 to 13, he notes that online classes were provided during the COVID-19 lock down, followed by four weeks of intense revision at school from June 8 to July 3.

He notes that while initially some students were reluctant to log onto the online learning platforms, the intervention of senior managers including himself who started monitoring the online classes, resulted in “the numbers drastically increasing after that”.

Mr. Myrie says students have expressed that they are “very confident and ready for the exams”, and that students adapted very well and embraced online learning, except for the complaint that “it ate up their data”.

In preparing for the early reopening of school plants to facilitate those students sitting exams, the principal notes that all protocols were put in place, including the restructuring of classrooms to hold 15 students only.

In addition, contactless hand sanitisation and soap dispenser stations were installed as well as paper towel dispensers. Also, persons, including volunteer nurses from the Kingston College Parent Teacher Association were installed at all gates to sanitise all who entered.

“Thermometers were provided for temperature checks to be done at all entrances to the school; additional washbasins were installed; additional (foot maneuvered) garbage bins were put in place; there was emphasis on the wearing of masks – no mask, no entry; and posters were placed all around the school to remind students of what is expected of them,” Mr. Myrie informs.

Meanwhile, Registrar and CEO of CXC, Dr. Wayne Wesley in a video message to provide an update on the exams, assures that the management and staff of CXC “are working closely with the Ministries of Education and Local registrars in each country to ensure that you remain safe during these unprecedented times”.

“All examination centres and invigilators will follow national heath protocols as it relates to social distancing, the wearing of masks and the sanitisation of hands and surfaces,” he says.

Approximately 58,720 students have registered to sit CSEC subjects and 16,184 for CAPE starting Monday, July 13 until August 7. Orals for foreign languages have already commenced.

Mr. Myrie has one bit of reassuring advice: he tells students to “Relax. As long as you have prepared well, you will be okay. And if you did not prepare as well as you could have, just do your best”.

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