Mixed feelings about exit exam preparation out west
School administrators in western Jamaica are expressing mixed feelings about their capacity to adequately prepare their students for upcoming exit examinations, even after some 500 schools across Jamaica reopened their doors on Monday to facilitate students in grades six, 11, 12, and 13.
Byron Grant, the principal of Hopewell High School in Hanover, told The Gleaner yesterday that his teachers have already begun seeking out avenues for their students to get extra lessons outside of the prescribed school hours.
“Teachers have started to write letters to the board of management, through me, to request to have three evening schools and sessions for those who can attend on weekends, to make up the time. This is something we would do over the years, so they (the students) would get the evening school free of cost, because the teachers realise that we are way behind,” said Grant.
“There is much more that could be done for the students on the weekend, and for those who can attend, it would also be free to them. We have offered free weekend classes for mathematics and English, in City and Guilds and CSEC, through the board of management, and it is something we will continue, and will even go extra on it now... now that we are going face-to-face,” added Grant.
Grant’s optimism stands in sharp contrast to the view held by Camille Davis-Williams, the principal of St Paul’s Primary School in Westmoreland, who believes that the learning loss suffered by students for over a year, to date, cannot be regained.
“The teachers are ‘cyber-fatigued,’ as they have spent a lot of time online, sometimes just teaching one or two students. Any loss in education is going to cost us, five or 10 years down the road, although we might not see the cost of it now,” said Davis-Williams, who also acts as the grade-six teacher at her school. “The gap that was created because of the pandemic is so wide that I do not see what is going to be done to make up that gap, if some of the students do not stay back for another year.”
The educators were speaking against the background of reports from the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) that over half of Jamaica’s examination cohort is choosing to put off sitting their exit exams at this time. The deferral has been attributed to a lack of adequate time to prepare for the exams, which are scheduled to begin on June 14.
Teachers have also reportedly rejected Education Minister Fayval Williams’ proposal for a mandatory summer-school period to make up for the learning loss, which has been in effect since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
In the meantime, Linvern Wright, the president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, said that a proper plan needs to be formulated to help secondary-school students who have chosen to put off their exams.
“I do not think we have sufficiently worked out what happens to those students if they are deferring (sitting their exams), because you are going to have to deal with the grade-11 students who are going to come up for next year. What needs to happen is that a meaningful plan needs to be worked out for those students who are deferring, because if they have learning loss, you’re really going to need a dedicated teacher with a focused programme to help those kids to come through,” said Wright, who is principal of the Trelawny-based William Knibb Memorial High School.