NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd yesterday defended the government’s decision to move forward with National Exams, insisting that the exams are voluntary and no student is being compelled to take the tests. Amid rising public tension over the issue, Lloyd said: “It had always been the intention of the ministry to conduct External Exams if conditions permitted. “This is why it was repeatedly stated that the exams were postponed, not canceled. “We stated this from the beginning of the national lockdown. “Students were advised that the lockdown didn’t mean a vacation from school. PSAs and other media announcements made this plain and clear.” Last week the prime minister announced that national examinations are expected to be held on July 13 – after weeks of uncertainty. However, the announcement of the new date was met with mixed views, with dozens of teachers, parents, and students voicing their concerns over the readiness of students to take the test. The issue has also seen high ranking education stakeholders disagreeing on how best to handle the issue. Lloyd yesterday acknowledged that the decision to hold the exams was not easy, given the unprecedented times and level of anxiety, disruption, stress, and more faced by students. He also once again recognized that there are still many students who do not have a device or the internet, and would have been deprived of the benefit of continuing school. “We understand that, and have made every effort to accommodate them,” he added, pointing to the government’s partnership with Cable Bahamas to broadcast educational materials for Grades 9 and 12 students preparing for the BJC and BGCSE Exams respectively. The government’s Virtual School platform has seen a registration of over 48,000 students – of which an average of 20,000 are engaged daily. Of that number, 8,000 plus are private and home-schooled students. There are some 75,000 school-aged students – 50,000 in public schools and 25,000 in private schools. “At the end of the day, the ministry’s guiding principle is in the best interest of the student, especially students in Grades 9 and 12, at this time”, Lloyd said. The education minister also pointed out several factors considered during the decision-making process. He noted that international universities use the BGCSE results to determine eligibility and the exams are also used as the criteria for admission to the University of The Bahamas. He advised the UB will be permitting students to enter on the basis of their performance during the last three years of high school and a passing mark on a placement exam. Students who have Maths and English Language BGCSE’s of grades A-C will be exempted from the placement test. Additionally, Lloyd indicated that students will need these certifications to enter the local job market. “The majority of Bahamian students, who leave grade 12, do not go onto college,” he noted. “They go to work. For them, the credentials of an external exam is vital as they would need these exams to enter the workforce. “Five or 10 years from now, no one may care or remember COVID 19 impacted their education in 2020. Then, how will these individuals measure up against other job applicants.” The health minister assured that there will be refresher courses for students which the ministry will continue to provide – both face-to-face and through the virtual school. He said if students still don’t have access to the internet or a device, they will be allowed to use devices in the computer labs at their school or any other school.