KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — The Ministry of Education (MOE) has not sanctioned internal examination rules at the Girls’ High School (GHS), Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told reporters on Thursday.
Gonsalves, who said he was speaking as a parent, added that he did not contact the school after his daughter, Soliel Gonsalves, 15, was given “zero” in an exam because her cellphone rang while examination papers were being distributed on June 15.
GHS officials confiscated the cellphone and, in keeping with the school’s rules, the student received a zero on that paper, according to Searchlight newspaper.
One week later, Chief Education Officer Lou-Anne Gilchrist wrote to GHS principal Andrea Bowman instructing her to cancel the zero and deduct ten per cent from the student’s grade, the publication has reported.
However, Bowman refused to rescind the school’s decision even after the MOE directive.
Gonsalves told reporters that he had not requested nor was requesting that the zero be cancelled, adding that a “teachable moment” has emerged at the GHS.
He said he had contacted MOE Permanent Secretary Nicole Bonadie-Baker to find out if there are sanctioned rules concerning internal examinations at the GHS or other secondary school in the country.
“I just wanted to know, as a parent, what are the rules. How in heaven’s name is that wrong?” he said, noting press statements that he used his office to pressure the GHS to reverse it decision.
“I gave no directive, I made no request of anybody to do anything other than … [ask them to] tell me about [the rules],” he said.
“I wasn’t concerned about removing the zero, I was concerned about the rules,” Gonsalves added.
“As a parent I do not know of the ‘internal GHS rules’; neither does Soleil; nor does her mom,” Gonsalves said.
Noting his training in law, Gonsalves said the GHS rules can only be valid if they are reasonable, are transparent, sanctioned, and consistently applied.
In a letter to Bonadie-Baker on July 7, Gonsalves said he did not want his daughter “to be the symbol of any ‘cause célèbre’”.
He said that since inquiring about the GHS rules he had learnt one or more students at GHS have been given zero in circumstances similar to those of his daughter.
“I am sure that the Ministry was unaware of this latter fact, and can only address complaints and queries actually made to it by parents,” he said.
He added that it “might not be possible or practical to correct the application of unsanctioned rules to students who have hitherto been penalized with a zero in an exam.
“If this is the case, I do not wish my daughter’s ‘zero’ to be rectified. I insist though, as a parent, that no school be permitted to apply unsanctioned rules in the future,” he said, adding that “a ‘teachable moment’ at the GHS has sadly metamorphosed into a purely ‘disciplinary moment’”.