Schools in Jamaica to remain closed until September

THE Government of Jamaica announced on Monday (May 4) that schools are to remain closed until September, and students will be placed in secondary schools using already completed components of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) assessment, the JamaicaObserver reports.

Outlining the way forward for the education system in the face of the COVID-19 crisis at a virtual press conference at Jamaica House, portfolio minister Karl Samuda said online and distance learning will continue until July 3, and that schools will not physically reopen until September 7 — the start of the next school year.

“There will be a process of assessment and learning for the first 20 days after school reopens so that we can get a good feel as to where each child is, because many of them have been denied an opportunity to experience classroom environment, so we have to reintegrate them,” he said.

Samuda said tertiary institutions are to make their own decisions on closing the current year and the start of the next school year.

Instead of the PEP assessment in its entirety, the ministry will use the grade four numeracy and literacy exams done in 2018 and the grade five performance task — which comprises mathematics, English, arts, social studies, and the sciences — that was done in 2019, to go towards the results which will determine placement.

“We will, in addition, use the results of the grade six ability test done in February 2020, and we will use these grades to determine the placement at the secondary level. We recognise that it is not as scientifically based as the previous year, and we expect that it will return to normalcy next year, but this year we cannot do anything that will compromise the progress for our children, so we are going to use this technique,” he stressed.

Samuda assured that the placement methodology has the full support of sector stakeholders, including the Jamaica Teachers’ Association.

He said the ministry is already advanced in the preparation of placements, which are to be released on June 26.

“We have to make sure they are properly checked, and cross-checked and assessed,” he said.

As for secondary school exit exams, he said the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) has proposed that assessments be slated for late June/July or September/October, and for the administration of multi-choice exams to be done either online or by paper.

He said a final decision will be made at the next Caricom Heads of Government meeting, at which Prime Minister Andrew Holness will participate in the discussions.

With respect to the City and Guilds examination, Samuda said the proposal is to use calculated results, which will include teacher assessor estimates and grades. Approximately 30,000 students are to participate in the assessment.

Online testing is to be used for the theoretical component of the National Council on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (NCTVET) exams for 18,000 students.

Meanwhile, Internet coverage continues to be an issue for some students, with 31,000 children having no access and unable to connect to virtual learning.

“Whilst we have negotiated subsidised plans from Digicel and Flow for teachers and students, much more needs to be done. We cannot continue to have a situation where approximately 30 per cent of our cohort [are] in areas where they have no Internet facility, and that poses a threat to them… and we are making every effort to ensure that we cover those areas thoroughly,” Samuda said.

He noted that there are currently 238 schools in remote areas without Internet access, and that the Government has, therefore, entered into an arrangement with ReadyTV, to provide a solution. The minister said 100 communities served by these schools will have access within another two weeks.

Samuda said, too, that more than 5,510 tablets are ready for distribution to teachers, while e-Learning Jamaica will provide 40,000 tablets to students to assist with virtual learning. Distribution of the devices is scheduled for the end of this month. An additional 7,000 tablets are to be provided for needy children, according to the education minister.

There are 2,941 public education institutions across the island, with enrolment of 557,000.