Opposition Senator Damion Crawford is urging the Government to resume face-to-face classes for students sitting Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) subjects as thousands of Jamaican children struggle to prepare for the external examination.
But Crawford wants the face-to-face classes to be conducted in a secure, controlled environment – a bubble – in each school where students are preparing to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) papers.
“A proposal I would like to make to the Government, and the prime minister, as it relates to education… is to have bubbles for those who are doing CXC,” Crawford said during a wide-ranging interview with the Jamaica Observer.
“An education bubble would be one where the kids who are doing CXC… will stay on the [school] campus for about six weeks,” added Crawford as he pointed to a mathematics camp which he staged for a similar period.
He argued that a bubble at the schools would increase the time of exposure for the students, reduce their travel, and also reduce their chance of contracting the novel coronavirus.
“Staying for that period of time allows for the total hours of exposure to be achieved, even though it is within a constrained time. The norm is, for example, mathematics you would get two 40-minute sessions of exposure… per week. If you are in a camp… you would get two three-hour sessions of exposure and a two-hour session of review throughout the day because you are there for 24 hours,” Crawford said.
The politician and businessman argued that the Government could easily find the financial resources to house and feed the students while arranging additional security for the school compounds.
“The first reality is that the Government has over $258 billion for which they decide what to do, with it. So when we say that Jamaica can’t afford it, it is that we can’t afford everything that we want to do but can afford almost anything we want to do,” said Crawford.
“It costs – and I’m using just my experience – for 400 students… for 21 days [in a camp] $2 million for food and another $2.3 million boarding, and at that time we had to rent from The University of the West Indies.
“Because the schools don’t have first form, second form [and other forms] attending, this would be using the classrooms for boarding and you use a cot, or a mattress on the ground,” argued Crawford as he pointed to his high school experience at Kingston College where this was the type of accommodation provided for members of the track and field team.
According to Crawford, teachers would not have to stay in the school bubbles as, if they are vaccinated, they could travel from home each day.
“However, these children are not vaccinated, and their parents are not vaccinated, causing for us not to want to have a hub and spoke system where they would come to the schools and go back into their communities. That is one of the reasons [that] the bubble becomes so important for the students,” said Crawford.
CXC has announced significant changes to its assessment model for the June/July 2021 examination cycle.
The changes were an acknowledgement of disruptions caused by the ongoing pandemic which has suspended face-to-face classes for tens of thousands of students across the region, aswell as displacement from the erupting La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
According to CXC, it is aware that some candidates across the region, based on their particular circumstances, may not be ready for assessment. As such, it stands ready to listen and to engage in dialogue with critical stakeholders across the education landscape.
Given these circumstances, the council said it has reduced the school-based assessment (SBA) requirements by as much as 50 per cent in some subjects.
It said it will share the broad topics to be assessed on paper two for CSEC and CAPE exams with the ministries of education in each country for distribution to all candidates on May 10.
But the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT), the umbrella organisation for teachers’ unions around the region, said CXC should “rationalise” the examinations to reflect the current educational environment.
“Having consulted with educators and other stakeholders in the region on Thursday, April 8, that got the overwhelming support of stakeholders of all Caricom states, our organisation is convinced that the approach by CXC to handling the examination challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic has created some uneasiness and a high level of anxiety among stakeholders of the education sector,” said CUT as it balked at what is described as CXC’s “business-as-usual manner”.