Sun | Nov 29, 2020

Kristen Gyles | Why the pushback?

Published:Tuesday | June 2, 2020 | 12:13 AM

“Scrap it” is the demand … and then what?

Lately, many persons have been advocating for this year’s CXC exams to be cancelled. What many have not said is what should happen after that.

Is the idea that we lump this year’s fifth form with next year’s fifth form and let them all do their exams together? Because if we are worried about spacing issues this year given the COVID-19 constraints, we should try lumping two cohorts of students together all at once to sit exams. A dem time deh unnu a guh see outbreak.

But this is all conjecture. I am assuming that of all the other highly impractical and infeasible alternatives, this is the one the naysayers have in mind when they say “scrap it”. They have not done a very good job of explaining themselves, which is not surprising, since we have a culture of throwing around ideas while giving little thought to the pragmatics of how these ideas will play out practically.

CXC understands that a double-minded organisation is unstable in all its ways (see James 1:8 for reference). The organisation needed to make a decision regarding its exams, and it has done so. Good for them. Enough hemming and hawing. Regardless of the decision, some of us will always find a way to complain anyway.

The Government has also acted well in not heeding the suggestion for us to call it quits on the school term. Some have actually gone as far as to suggest that come September, all students should simply repeat their current grade level.

So if some people have it their way, next school year, our universities will forego an entire cohort of students, and in three or four years’ time, they will know just not to plan any graduation ceremony. That year, we can forget about all the summer internships and university graduate training programme, and the various corporate bodies that rely on these graduates to fill vacancies can simply downsize their operations. The consequent skyrocketing of our unemployment rate and fall in economic output might not matter much either.

I can’t understand why we would want to see complete stagnation at all grade levels across the school system. Some people really know how to make perfection the enemy of good. We miss one term of school and, therefore, think it’s a good idea to just call it quits and further throw the education system into mayhem.


It is well understood that some students will not feel equipped to do their CXC exams – for various reasons. Whether it be a total lack of technological access, or just general anxiety, some students just don’t feel ready to sit their exams. And that’s fine, given the circumstances. No one can tell our students how they should feel. Regardless, a year is enough time for them to pivot and give things a second go. Let them sit their exams next year.

Other students who have their lives to carry on with and who have detailed and ambitious plans of attending Jamaica’s Ivy League universities and various other tertiary institutions around the globe understand that time waits on no man and want to do it this year. It is not right for students who are not ready to have the expectation of holding the entire education system at ransom because of their unreadiness. Life continues. If you miss the train this year, catch the next one. What the Government should focus on now is lobbying for students who opt not to do the exam this year to have their exam fees rolled over for next year’s exam.

A big part of development is learning that things don’t always go smoothly. The COVID-19 pandemic caught almost the entire world by surprise, and no one would have known we’d be here in this position now. We have all been affected by COVID-19, and we’ve all had to make sacrifices. With that said, the CXC exam process has been significantly altered to make it easier for students to do well, with the average student needing to worry now only about sitting one multiple choice paper per subject.

I don’t think our students are being asked to make too great a sacrifice. They are being asked to sit an approximate one and a half hour multiple choice questions (MCQ) paper after what will essentially be two months of study time. With exam-sitting students being the only ones who will present themselves at school in July to do exams, social distancing can easily be maintained, and with two months’ time between now and then, enough can be done by way of preparation to see to it that exam rooms are appropriately sanitised and that other sanitisation measures are put in place.


While some teachers and students are trying hard to make the best of a difficult situation and are trying to adapt to changing circumstances, some are bent on crying down failure. The Government’s rightful focus seems to be in getting the society back to some semblance of normality. We should be trying to contribute to this effort and not trying to fight against it.

The ‘eat your cake and have it too’ mentality is also very apparent with some persons who expect our students not to sit exams any at all, but be given a grade nonetheless, based on their already completed school -based assessment (SBA). Some persons really have not a clue as to what an SBA really is. Otherwise they could never see this as a viable option. An SBA, in the case of most subjects, is, essentially, a project that the teacher guides the student through. How unrelenting the student is in nagging the teacher for help is largely what will determine how much teacher assistance the student gets in completing the project. When the project is finished, the teacher collects it and grades it. What some Jamaicans apparently want is for CXC to reduce itself and its exams to a literal joke by giving students final grades based on a project that the student and teacher did together. Very crazy. For diligent students, SBAs are free marks. The only problem here is that it isn’t diligence that CXC is trying to test, but ability and competence.

As an aside, it is very interesting to see and hear the copious numbers of fifth- and sixth-form students complaining about how unfair it is that they have to sit their exams. We are now in June, and some students have condemned themselves to failing their end-of-July exams. Says a lot. As far as I am concerned, once the student has appropriate study material, the student can prepare for his or her multiple choice exams in two months’ time.

It is about time we give up on complaining and do what needs to be done to have the society and its functioning restored as far as possible to a state of normalcy.

Kristen Gyles is a mathematics educator and an actuarial science graduate. Email feedback to