The jury is still out as to the precise start date of the new school term, and when the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) examinations and the Barbados Secondary Schools’ Entrance Examination (BSSEE) will take place.
Stating that the situation in respect to COVID-19 was still very “fluid”, Acting Prime Minister and substantive Minister of Education, Santia Bradshaw, said there were a number of mitigating factors which would determine if the regional and local exams would happen within the June to July period, as originally intended.
She was speaking during a press conference yesterday to update the country on Government’s COVID-19 response.
“We are watching what is happening in the region and across the world. In relation to CXC for instance, obviously that is governed by the regional body and they have made some recommendations in terms of as to when they would want students to sit the exam in June to the July period. However, we are mindful that as cases increase across the region, or if other territories are not able to control their numbers that that will have a direct impact on Barbados as well and we may very well find ourselves moving to September.
“What we have spoken to the respective stakeholders about is that the situation is fluid; we’ve expressed that there will be a point where we will certainly know that we may have to postpone it. But we intend to continue to engage in the dialogue with them with respect to any shifting from the June/July date to a September examination period,” Minister Bradshaw explained.
As for the BSSEE or 11-Plus exam, the Acting Prime Minister said a projected June sitting would be subject to review, following the end of the extended shutdown on Monday, May 4.
“The common entrance exam, we have more control over that because that is a creature of the Barbados Government and the Barbados educational system. We had initially said that we would postpone it until the end of June, but that is still subject to review after May 4, and those discussions are ongoing with the various stakeholders in terms of the best time.
She continued: “It may very well be that we may have to postpone the exam beyond the June period, but at this stage it is still a bit early to say with some degree of certainty. What we are trying to do is ensure that students who are preparing for exams at any level that they are not disadvantaged.”
She announced that with the thrust geared towards online teaching as the country fought against the tide of COVID-19, and considering that more Barbadians were working from home, Government would ease the restrictions on computer stores to allow them to facilitate online shopping for computer equipment and “peripherals”, with the condition that there would be curbside pick-up in place.
Minister Bradshaw further added that the Ministry of Education held consultations with education stakeholders all last week.
She said that as it relates to the resumption of formal teaching or learning in the primary and secondary schools that it would be “unwise to stipulate a precise start date for the new term” at this time.
She emphasized that the aim was to have an emergency response mechanism, in terms of technology, rolled out in all schools, once the circumstances permitted. The Ministry of Education has started to officially roll out its Google GSuite for Education online learning platform this week.
Minister Bradshaw emphasized that she expected teachers to use this “familiarization period” to reinforce the subjects taught in Terms I and II, instead of introducing new concepts.
She said this would allow 80 per cent or so of teachers who have been trained by the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training (METVT) to test the knowledge base of students, while allowing the Ministry to focus on training those who haven’t yet been trained.
As for those students who do not have devices, internet connectivity or electricity, the Acting Prime Minister assured the public that Government was working to ensure no student was left behind.
To this end, she disclosed that the METVT had been consulting with internet providers and overseas suppliers to address this matter “in the shortest possible time”.
Additionally, private retailers and individuals had offered to donate equipment to ensure there was a level playing field for students, she stated.
Minister Bradshaw said the METVT would also be utilizing radio stations in the interim, including those of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, to complement the new learning platform.