Students disheartened by exam date change, Samuda’s comment

THE National Secondary Students’ Council (NSSC) says it is “disheartened and shocked” by comments made by Karl Samuda — the minister overseeing the education portfolio — which implied that students were not an essential part of the discussion to determine when they would sit Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) papers.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, NSSC Public Relations Officer Ree-Anna Robinson said students across the island have not only been left dismayed by the announcement of a new start date for the exams, but discouraged by Samuda’s comments.

“The exam date definitely came as a big shock to students across the island who are unsure of how the decision moved from not participating, to July 27, then to July 13. We [also] share the same sentiment with regards to the comments made about consulting students, especially with the fact that we are coming out of Child Month. The importance of student and youth participation is outlined in many legislative frameworks, including the Education Regulations, which legally gives the students’ council the right to partake in decision-making that affects them,” Robinson noted.

On Sunday, Samuda said that Education Ministry technocrats could not arrive at a decision for when Jamaican students would sit exams by consulting the student body that represents them.

“We are driven by a principle that once placed in a position to lead, you must lead from the top. You must lead from [the] participat[ion] [of] those who are particularly involved in setting policy and discharging policy set down by the Government of Jamaica… You could never imagine us arriving at a conclusion as to when to engage students in an examination by being guided by hundreds, and I suspect if you take it to its full extreme, over 100,000 students,” the acting education minister said.

He was responding to a concern raised that the NSSC had not been consulted by the ministry before announcing a new start date for the exams, which were initially interrupted by the new coronavirus pandemic.

“The National Youth Policy and the Child Care and Protection Act both speak to youth participation being a right. We have the right to participate in decisions affecting us… As a council, we appreciate the partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information over the years, and we are therefore recommending that, for future, the inclusion of the youth voice, at every level, is strengthened and be made paramount,” said Robinson.

In a statement yesterday, the Jamaica Union of Tertiary Students (JUTS) backed the student council body, calling on Samuda to “retract the statement and apologise to the organisation”.

The JUTS pointed out that the NSSC had been established in 1975 through a Government policy initiated in 1973.

It said the policy emerged as a response to the growing demand for effective student advocacy and meaningful involvement in decision-making processes.

“The National Secondary Students’ Council represents over 162 secondary institutions, with over 300,000 students. For that voice to be disregarded in any process affecting them, especially in a democratic nation, implies that policies which entrench student participation are just for show,” the statement said.

On May 18, during a virtual press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Andrew, Samuda announced a July 27 start date for the exams.

At that time, he said that it would take “about a couple of weeks, into August, to complete it, but the process will start on the 27th of July and the question of social distance can be accommodated quite easily, because all the other children are out of school and it will be quite convenient”.

The decision was a climbdown by the Government, which had said early May that it would reserve giving a final position on the Caribbean Examinations Council’s decision to set the exams in July.

On Sunday, Samuda announced that the start date had been revised to July 13.

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