The school exams. Preparing for tomorrow

Children’s education was one of the biggest casualties of the COVID-19 global pandemic this year, resulting in thousands of students throughout the islands having their classes disrupted or even shut by local authorities.

In fact the interruptions to classes over the last two years have been unprecedented, first with the measles outbreak towards the end of 2019 and the pandemic that followed early this year, which threw the spanner in the works of pupils’ preparations to go to higher grades or even pursue tertiary education at educational institutions such as the National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) or the University of the South Pacific (U.S.P.).

A number of primary schools and colleges have in the last week held prize-giving ceremonies for their graduating students, as well as those who have performed exceptionally well academically and are in the senior grades.

The challenges and the uncertainty that the students faced this year was not lost on a number of college graduates, who spoke of the impact that the pandemic-inspired state of emergency (S.O.E.) had on their studies and the difficulties that they faced at school and home in what was a very unpredictable year.

On Monday Year 12-13 students from 41 colleges in Samoa will sit their Samoa School Certificate (S.S.C.) and the Samoa School Leaving Certificate (S.S.L.C.) exams, as the last part of their assessment. Over 4,000 students are expected to sit their S.S.C. and S.S.L.C. exams from December 7-17 according to the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.).

There will be a lot on the school leavers’ minds when they walk into the examination venue from Monday morning, such as their tertiary studies pathways including entry into the N.U.S., U.S.P. or even the Technical and Vocational Education Training (T.V.E.T.) option.

And what would be the new normal for tertiary-level education providers such as the N.U.S. and the U.S.P. in the 2021 Academic Year with the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic still hanging over the country?

Would next year’s school year be business as usual for all students from primary to secondary schools and colleges as well as tertiary education or would it be a shorter year comprising shorter term and semester holidays and longer class, tutorial or lecture hours to give students enough time to fully grasp the lessons delivered?

The lessons learnt during the 2020 Academic Year – which was sadly disruptive and unpredictable for many of our children due to the pandemic and the S.O.E. that followed – should be used to begin planning next year’s learning program, in a bid to minimise disruptions to the school calendar. 

This could include planning for a worst-case scenario, where the reporting of multiple COVID-19 positive cases, could lead to the full evacuation of students with learning continuing in the comfort of their homes supervised by parents.

The success (or the lack of it) of the N.U.S. online learning management system Moodle, and its impact on the students and its teaching staff during the S.O.E. lockdown this year, should be revisited with a view to garnering feedback on whether it should become the platform of choice as the university’s online learning infrastructure.

At the end of the day there are over 4,000 students who will sit their exams starting Monday. Upon completing the assessment, which would determine whether they continue their education at the university-level or T.V.E.T., they need to be assured that the M.E.S.C. and its relevant stakeholders are prepared for the next academic year despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

We take this opportunity to congratulate all those students who graduated from the various secondary schools and colleges and acknowledge the support, love and care that their families and relatives have extended to them in what was a very challenging year.

But the journey isn’t complete for those who are in Year 12-13 and are scheduled to sit their S.S.C. and S.S.L.C. exams starting Monday. We pray for your every success as you put pen to paper over the next couple of days.

We are in unprecedented times and living the new normal, but as Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal – it is the courage to continue that counts.”

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