Despite COVID-19 challenges, SVN students shine at CSEC, CAPE

By Nathifa Punch

Throughout the years, the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations and its counterpart Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Education (CAPE) examinations were often times seen as a Guyanese teenager’s worst nightmare. Logging into the student portal to know their fate is usually harder than the exams they already wrote. Some might tell you they had already packed their bags to stay with a relative for a while – just in case. That was the only thing a teen was worried about during exam session. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic brought a different kind of fear for CSEC and CAPE students throughout the country’s population that no one else could begin to understand.
Anxiety and depression took on a more riveting role in the lives of many students as they prepared for their exams in a new frame of mind.
The drastic change from face-to-face sessions to screen time was welcomed by some while others struggled to cope with the new setting.
In the face of all of this, the CSEC and CAPE top students of Saraswati Vidya Niketan (SVN) Secondary School took the old saying, “every dark cloud has a silver lining” to a new level when they acquired excellent grades.
Faraz Yassin, Savitri Jesicca Mahadeo, Ronaldo Antonio Khemchan, Karuna Lall, and Roushine Lall wrote the CSEC examinations and did more than just produce excellent grades. They were awarded places among the top 11 performers for the year 2021.
Crediting the backbone of their success to the unwavering support from their family and teachers, these students took up the mantle and beat the odds of the pandemic.
“It was definitely hard because writing 18 subjects isn’t exactly the easiest thing,” Yassin, who obtained 17 Grade Ones and one Grade Two expressed.
He further indicated that “My teachers definitely helped. Like during our breaks, I would take time to speak to them outside of normal school stuff, like how you cope with the pressure and stuff like that, so they definitely helped me”.
“So having that support system was like the most important thing for me. For me it was my parents and my sister especially, so like that was a very important thing and that’s very important because you need to take care of your mental health when you have such a big workload,” the young man pointed out.
Roushine Lall, who obtained 16 Grade Ones and four Grade Twos echoed this sentiment by stating that “I did 20 subjects at CSEC and it was quite a load – I mean from form three to five – and considering the pandemic and everything, it was a challenge.”
She lauded the teachers for taking the time – even during the nights to ensure that they were well equipped and well prepared for the exams.
“I mean, the school helped a lot because they always ensured we had classes even though most schools weren’t having classes when the pandemic came about. We had online classes so that helped a lot. The teachers were always patient and then we had a lot of night sessions, a lot of past papers. Basically, the school ensured that all resources are provided,” Lall highlighted.
“My parents supported me [financially] a lot – because it’s a private school. My sisters also helped and my teachers of course are very hardworking. They would literally be there to help during the night. We had a lot of night sessions.”
Ronaldo Khemchand, who obtained 16 Grade Ones and three Grade Twos related that the online platform posed as a challenge and took some getting used to.
He praised the school for putting systems in place to make the journey manageable.
“It was very difficult at the beginning of the pandemic to get used to the online learning platform, but nevertheless, our school put a lot of stuff in place to aid us in that endeavour. It was a little tough at first. I had to get used to it. I had to study on my own for a very long time, but eventually, it became a norm and I got used to it and I became familiar with the [online] environment,” Khemchand stated.
Savitri Mahadeo, however, indicated that regardless of the challenges throughout the journey, hard work and determination conquers all.
She expressed her gratitude for the journey since she believes it has given her the necessary experience for the outside world.
“Well, it was a bit challenging of course, as anything is, however, with determination, hard work and enthusiasm – basically loving what you do, you can get through it. And for me, I think it was a really long journey, cause its five years, but it meant a lot to me,” Mahadeo expressed.
“It really gave me experience, experience in so many areas and I think it really prepares you for the outside world that you’re going into. It was a really eventful journey and the amount of love and support I had was the basis of getting me through it, basically.”

CAPE has always been somewhat of a tough nut to crack and the school’s top performers for CAPE highlighted this by noting that the examinations were quite different from CSEC. Even though this posed some amount of challenges for Atishta Seenarine who acquired Grade Ones in the nine units she wrote and Shivnarine Chaitram who attained seven Grade Ones, one Grade Two, and one Grade Three, they made it to the end of the tunnel and indicated that their teachers along with family were the pillars of their success.
“So, CAPE was very different from CSEC. It was more challenging, more application so I had to do more regular studying and stuff like that. Because it was in a pandemic, it was different. The learning was pretty blended for me. At SVN we did online and in school. So, on the weekends it would be online and during the week would be in school. It was different, the new approach that they had, but at the same time I appreciated it because it was helpful. I actually appreciated the online classes. They were okay for me. I could’ve managed them,” Seenarine explained
She further pointed out that “In terms of subject wise – as I said before they were application-based and so all I had to do was like more constant revision and pretty much ensure that I understand the content to the max and I think that has helped me a lot in the examination… since we were doing a small number of subjects, you had like more free time in between so, I was able to put in my own study, I had more time to do like my own personal preparation.”
“The school also helped a lot because my teachers always made sure we had the best materials and they’re always there. Whenever you need anything, you could always ask them,” Seenarine shared.
Chaitram on the other hand stated that apart from the pandemic, the lack of resources for some of the units he wrote were at the centre of the challenges he faced.
However, he indicated that his teachers did their best in ensuring that they were prepared to the maximum capacity for the exams.
He also praised his family, especially his brother, who also wrote the exams, for helping him in acquiring the rewarding grades he obtained.