STUDENTS at some teachers’ colleges across the island have launched an online petition against a decision to have them sit examinations face-to face for the new academic year in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
A letter to Church Teachers’ College (CTC) students, dated November 9, 2020, from the students’ council, explained that it “is ready to advocate for you to sit these exams in the safest possible way and in alignment with the protocols of the health ministry”.
But the students are arguing that the decision will constitute a serious health risk and are adamant that online examinations would be more convenient.
“The frivolous decision taken to have us engage face-to-face examinations only breaches our right to safety and protection during a pandemic and renders our efforts useless, and that, I would say, is an enormous disrespect to and utter disregard for us… as human beings. I strongly support the alternative assessments, those that align with the poor quality of pedagogy received over the course of the semester,” CTC third-year English student Britney Royal said.
Second-year geography, history, and social studies student Shaydell Newland shared a similar story, adding that her son, who is asthmatic, would be at risk.
“I am not comfortable coming in to do face-to-face exams because I have a son who is asthmatic, and if I am to come in, I would put him at the risk of contracting the virus if I leave him at day care. Also, I don’t have anyone to keep him, so coming in is out of my reach. I am going back to school; financially I don’t have it, and I would have to take public transportation from St Ann to Kingston, putting myself at risk of contracting the virus,” she said.
Another second-year CTC student, who gave his name only as Gordon, said: “I have finally gotten accustomed to online learning and I am doing fairly well. Switching back to face-to-face classes right now is unnecessary. We have already been learning and submitting assignments online, why not use the same medium to test what we have learnt? At this time, face-to-face exams and classes are not only risky but also impractical as online learning is quickly becoming the new norm.”
When the Jamaica Observer contacted the Teachers’ Colleges of Jamaica dean Dr Garth Anderson, he opted not to comment on the issue.
Also, the newspaper was unable to get a response from the education ministry.
Students at Shortwood Teachers’ College (STC) were also concerned, especially after the health and wellness ministry revealed that cases of the new, more infectious strain of COVID-19 have been found here.
“It just is not congruent. Additionally, with the recent news that the new strain of COVID-19 is now in Jamaica, I cannot rely on my school to ensure my safety when doing these exams, because persons who have taken all the necessary precautions have still contracted the virus and have died despite their best efforts,” said third-year Shortwood Science student Derron Johnson.
“The format that we have working with right now is the best one, given the circumstances, and I feel that with some adjustments a proper online assessment can be done for final exams,” he said.
Third-year science and biology student Sherene Marlin stated that the decision puts the students at risk as most take public transportation.
“I don’t see why STC is not able to develop a platform where students are to complete the exams without plagiarism or any other factors that the board may consider to be an advantage for the students. I have already done exams with my camera on,” said Marlin.
First-year English language and social studies student Sharmalee Smart added: “Doing the test face-to-face will be a challenge for me. I reside in Trelawny, and for me to travel on the days I have exams will be difficult for me to get transportation. The COVID-19 cases increase daily and for me it’s better to be safe than sorry. If I do come to Kingston, by the time I am through with the exams, getting home will be very difficult; and with my issues I can’t be away from home for now until it is resolved.”