Jun 13, 2020 Letters
Given the serious health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the level of importance placed on the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), the Ministry of Education (MoE) should have taken the proposals of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) more seriously. Also, the Ministry should have conducted some form of public consultation with parents and guardians before setting the dates of these exams. After all, this placement exam is a major stepping-stone for our future doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, and yes, politicians. Any decision on the timing of the exams should have stemmed from meaningful engagement with these key stakeholder groups. As expected, the Ministry’s unilateral decision has been met with criticism from different corners in recent days.
Notwithstanding, the importance of the public health concern, equally important is the readiness of these young boys and girls to sit these exams in such a short turnaround. Despite having access to learning materials via the internet, television, radio, newspapers, and past exam papers, for many of these students, the lack of academic structure at home over the last three months could not have been an ideal learning environment. To expect the majority of them to remain focused and self-motivated outside of normal schooling is unrealistic regardless of the best efforts of their teachers, parents, and/or guardians. Their level and intensity of preparation were never going to be the same. Thus, to give these ten, eleven, and twelve-year-old students two weeks to prepare for the biggest test of their young lives is not only irresponsible but downright unreasonable.
Even more alarming is the level of preparation of students from the poorer strata of our society and hinterland regions. Under normal circumstances, students from these households are at a disadvantage as they often lack the same level of materials, resources, and support at home to push them along. Hence, they rely heavily on interactions with their teachers and classmates to motivate and help them absorb the study materials, which often make a world of difference. In the absence of this much needed help, there is a real risk that these underprivileged students will be underprepared for these exams and risk being academically left behind.
Furthermore, from an economic development perspective, the importance of this academic assessment cannot be understated. Since there is a significant difference between the top tier and bottom tier secondary schools in Guyana, these exams are a pivotal moment in a young student’s life as it not only determines the secondary school, which they will attend but also the level and quality of educational resources that they will have access to during their formative years. Given the significant weight placed on the NGSA in Guyana, disadvantaged students may never be able to truly realise their educational potential and by extension improve their economic condition as adults. Hence, there is a strong likelihood that these students as adults will become stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty struggling to make ends meet like their parents and grandparents before them.
While I admit that this is not an easy decision to make given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the logistics of the school year, we are living in unprecedented times, which call for extraordinary responses and leadership. With a new Minister of Education expected by the end of next week (only time will tell), it is incumbent upon him or her to postpone the NGSA until the major stakeholders are properly engaged and a reasonable decision can be arrived at. This will not only help to assuage concerns related to the public health implications but also allow our students, especially those from poor backgrounds and the interior regions more time to receive the help needed to adequately prepare for and excel at these exams. Anything less is a disservice to our students, teachers, and the nation.
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