Though the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) postponed its traditional May/June exams to July and announced plans to roll out the exams digitally – in light of the covid19 pandemic – president of the TT Unified Teachers Association (TUTTA) Antonia DeFreitas questions this country’s readiness for e-testing.
“Yes, we (TUTTA) support digital transformation of the education system but there are certain prerequisites that must be put in place.
“We do not think that we have all of those prerequisites in place yet,” said DeFreitas in an interview with Sunday Newsday.
With schools closed as part of this country’s response to curb the spread of covid19, she said the first weakness in CXC’s proposed strategy is the assumption that all students in TT and across the region have access to internet and digital devices which allows for online learning and preparation for e-testing.
This disadvantage faced by students who lack access to adequate resources will be an extra burden to the psychological impact of covid19 faced by all students.
“It should not be expected that if schools reopen, let’s say the first Monday in May, that by the end of May month we will be ready for exams.
“With children who may have been home without (internet) access, they will need time to catch up, they will need time to prepare.”
She said addressing the emotional and mental scars of the pandemic through appropriate actions must be a priority before it is “business as usual.”
DeFreitas said with the scale of covid19 outbreaks differing by country, she does not see a “one date fit all” approach being plausible giving an example that TT may not resume to normal operations as quickly as smaller islands.
Even if this country resumes to normal operations by July, TUTTA members have voiced concern about the country’s readiness for e-testing. This list of concerns includes the availability of enough computers in schools.
“When we looked at some schools, they may have 20 or 30 (computer) units but those will also include units that are being used by administration and other departments in the school.”
She said in some schools there are computers running on outdated operating systems which raises the question of how compatible they will be with whatever digital systems CXC will launch its online exams.
Other concerns include access to proper internet bandwidth for sustained internet connections to limit disruptions during exams, the need for proper electricity supplies to school to avoid overload of grids when a greater number of computers are operational and the security of the computers that will be used to avoid exams being compromised.
DeFreitas is also calling for adequate training of teachers and IT technicians who will be conducting exams.
The effect of e-testing on students involved in Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) programmes are another concern given most exams in these programme require a practical “hands-on” component.
In a televised interview on Friday, CEO and registrar of CXC Wayne Wesley said that in the worst-case scenario, the council’s May/June exams may be moved to September or January 2021 due to covid19.
“We recognise that if the administration of the 2020 examination is no longer viable this year, there are other options.
“The (CXC) system is already accustomed to exams being doing in January, so perhaps we might have to move the full sitting to January (2021),” said Wesley – a move which will affect 152,000 students across the region.
Wesley said this may be considered if the pandemic continues beyond August which may also see exams being scheduled late into this year’s Atlantic hurricane season which is trying to be avoided.
Still, Wesley said every effort is being made to accommodate exams in July as this option has the least effect on 2020/2021 admissions to higher level education institutions, among other things.
While DeFreitas said postponing CXC exams to 2021 is the least appealing option, she is in support given the region’s lack of readiness. She said similar standardised assessments in other parts of the world have also been postponed to 2021.
On the potential effect of this move on regional students hoping to pursue academics at higher education institutions she said, “I don’t think there’ll be hard and fast rules in terms of matriculation or entry into the job market going forward because every country has been affected by this virus.
“There must be some flexibility. To say that we are looking to stick to a date because we want to consider matriculation for students, we are not sure if that’s the best thing.”
In all the proposals, DeFreitas said there has not been adequate consultations with teachers’ unions in the region by CXC. She said while she understands different education ministries in the region have been consulted by CXC, it is important that all stakeholders from principals to parents must have a say in any decision-making.
DeFreitas says TUTTA stands ready and willing to participate in virtual meetings with CXC.
In a press release on Saturday by the Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools noted similar concerns relating to CXC’s proposed rescheduling of exams to July.
The association said that before any exams occur, the psychological well-being of students must be assessed, students must be given enough time to prepare and students placed at any disadvantages due to a lack of resources during covid19 restrictions must be considered.
While the association commends the efforts by CXC, the association says it is too early for a definitive way forward given the fluidity of the covid19 pandemic. However, it says that the shift of exams to 2021 should be a last option should all else fail.