Minister of Education Jeff Lloyd in the House of Assembly. Photo: Terrel W Carey Sr/Tribune staff
By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
DESPITE pushback from some quarters, the Ministry of Education remained firm yesterday on the July date for national exams, saying it was always known the tests were being postponed, not cancelled.
Education Minister Jeff Lloyd said the decision to hold the exams next month was made after Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced the country had moved into stage three of its reopening plan.
“You can take the exams if you want to,” Mr Lloyd said at a virtual press conference yesterday. “No one is forcing you to take any exams. That is your choice. We are not forcing exams on anyone.”
He stressed that education officials had long planned to still hold the exams this year, saying they had been postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, not cancelled.
“It had always been the intention of the ministry to conduct external exams if conditions permitted,” the minister explained. “This is why it was repeatedly stated that the exams were postponed, not cancelled. We stated this from the beginning of the national lockdown. Students were advised that the lockdown didn’t mean a vacation from school. PSAs and other media announcements made this plain and clear.”
Noting the importance of the exams, he said that the Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC) tests are the catalyst for the advancement of students to a higher grade. He was also asked about the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) examinations which are key to admission to University of The Bahamas (UB). UB is permitting students to enter this year on the basis of their last three years of high school. Students must still pass a placement exam to gain entrance. Students who have math and English language BGCSEs at grade C or above will be exempted from the placement test.
On Thursday, June 4, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, acting on the advice of the Ministry of Education, Mr Lloyd said, announced that the BJC and BGCSE exams will be held beginning July 13 this year.
The ministry, Mr Lloyd said, undertook the decision to conduct the exams after it was announced by the Prime Minister that phase three of the country’s reopening plan had commenced, and that educational operations could be conducted according to the health protocols.
While acknowledging that students and parents have gone through unprecedented times during the pandemic, Mr Lloyd said students should have been preparing for the tests. He said efforts were made to help students without devices to access virtual learning during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“Despite a virtual school that has seen registration reach over 48,000 students, and an average of 20,000 engaged daily, there are still many students who do not have a device or the internet, and would, necessarily, have been deprived of the benefit of continuing school,” he continued. “We understand that, and have made every effort to accommodate them.”
He added: “From the very date that school suspended face-to-face instructions, I, as minister, and we as a ministry, impressed upon our students that this time is not a vacation. You are still in school, we told them, and that you must continue your school work. This was communicated across all media platforms, including public service announcements.”
An online petition to cancel the exams and use forecasted grades had more than 8,000 signatures up to press time.
During the press conference, Mr Lloyd also observed a moment of silence in memory of 10-year-old Lorencia Walkes, the fifth grade student of Sybil Strachan Primary School who died as a result of being shot in the head on May 29 in the Carmichael Road area. He noted that the ministry shares the grief of the child’s family.
The ministry is providing grief counsellors for the Sybil Strachan community and the family to help them all through the tragic and unfortunate loss.