Jonathan and Sally Andwati are parents of Alex, a “candidate” as we commonly refer to them in Kenya. However, as Head of the St Andrew’s School, Turi Sixth Form College and Careers and University Advisor respectively they are in their own right parents to many at Turi and during this season where Covid-19 has interrupted or even brought a complete stop to the education of many around the world.
The Sixth Form College is not just a centre of academic excellence (as demonstrated by the great IGSCE and A Level results) the students receive preparation for adult life where EQ just as much as IQ.
We picked their brains two weeks ago on the current situation, it’s effect on students who were to sit for their exams this month and what to expect as students especially Year 13s look to moving on University.
- As parents of a student who was to sit the A level exams in May/June, what has been your experience?
Mrs. Andwati: Like many parents around the world, when the COVID-19 outbreak intensified in March, we still had assurances from Cambridge Assessment and Edexcel that the exams would continue and that gave the students something tangible to aim for. When the exams were subsequently cancelled, we went through a whole range of emotions about what it would mean (including thinking of worst-case scenarios of having to repeat Year 13. The exam boards have over time given a clearer plan of action and this has helped reassure us and our son that there is a well-considered process being put in place. Nevertheless, we understand that the process in place will not answer all questions in the same way as we are used to with externally assessed examinations but we trust that our son (like every other student in the world in his position) will be assessed fairly.
- What is general the position of UK examination bodies, especially in relation to international students?
Mr. Andwati: The two main bodies which run IGCSE and GCE A Level (Cambridge Assessment and Edexcel) have a long standing association for many decades with international centres in more than 150 countries around the world. For this reason, these examination bodies are partners in education with Schools in Africa and elsewhere and in any given examination session, the exam bodies will always work with Schools to find ways to support progression of students. Having served as an examination officer for almost 5 years in a previous School, I have had the privilege of several conversations where the exam boards reached out to the Schools or responded very promptly to emergencies or unexpected situations and as long as student and School followed the laid-down exam procedure, the approach from the examiners was always to try and solve the problem to facilitate the progression of the learners. I would urge students and parents to view the examination bodies as organisations interested in helping provide the students with qualifications which they need to move to the next level and not as a group of people deliberately trying to place obstacles in their way.
- How does the September university intake into international universities look like given the current circumstances?
Mrs. Andwati: During the last fortnight, I have participated in numerous webinars, Facebook Live platforms and other online university events. The answer, as you can expect in these uncertain times is that no one knows for sure. Almost all international universities are approaching the next academic year by planning with two possible scenarios in mind. The best case situation would be the world returning to ‘normal’ and students reporting to campus for their orientation and first year and the upper classes returning to continue with their courses in face-to-face lectures and group instruction. However, all institutions are preparing for a worst case scenario where online classes could continue at least for September-October. The most desirable by far is the first instance which universities definitely prefer as there is a community life on campus which complements the academic work beautifully and is a hugely important part of the university experience which no one (student or staff) would want to miss out.Some education experts forecast that there will be fewer international students joining institutions in traditionally ‘popular’ destinations like the USA, UK, Australia and Canada because students would want to study closer home or might even take a gap year because of the current instability. Other education experts dispute this taking the example of the UK which was thought to be in steep decline in the light of the move towards Brexit. Subsequent events have proved that theory to be false as international student numbers in the UK continued to grow from year to year. Likewise fears that international student numbers in the USA would suffer a massive decline after the election of current President Donald Trump have been shown to be inaccurate with a plateau or stagnation or a slight decline being the real result. We know that some universities may struggle or even close down after the current crisis but it is likely that many institutions will continue to have thriving, diverse communities though there might be some short-term effects on student numbers as a reaction to this year’s events.
- What happens to applications that had not been completed, should students still send in applications?
Mrs. Andwati: We are privileged to be in a position where we can report that every single student had already sent out their applications by the time they closed School. This has always been our target here in our College – that all applications are out well before published deadlines. The current Year 13 students have done a great job, putting in applications to many very competitive universities and courses. Some have been successful and others were not selected.During the time students have been away from School, our Careers Team has been quite busy and active on the Microsoft Teams learning platforms, informing students about opportunities to join webinars or take virtual campus tours to help in making a decision on which university to attend. Many resources have been posted for Year 13 university decisions as well as assisting Year 12 students with wider reading as part of their foundation for their university applications. We have also used the Microsoft Teams chat function in addition to email to help students with any pending matters which may have held up their university applications to date. The School has over time developed a strong network of contacts from various institutions internationally and these partners have come in handy during the last few weeks to assist students and in some cases thanks to the strong impression our students have made on visiting university staff, they have ensured that Turi students received their admission offers within a matter of hours! Some of our colleagues in Schools elsewhere in the world are in a much tougher position, so we count ourselves fortunate and blessed that virtually every student already has at least one good university offer, with some students holding offers from universities in two or three countries. There will invariably a few of our students who will weigh their current options and choose to look for different, more suitable options-perhaps in the UK and Canada for September 2020, South Africa or Australia for January 2021. A few students may even take a gap year to aim for September 2021 entry for many institutions around the world. For all the students, there is still plenty to aim for and we would encourage those who still want to place applications to universities which still have courses of their choice available that there are many suitable African and international options which could well end up being their ‘best-fit’ university, so they should do their research and work on those applications.
- Schools are being asked to consider coursework, previous examinations like mock exams to award grades to students. What is your opinion on this and how is this system of grading likely to affect international students like ours?Mr. Andwati: The unique situation with which we have been presented this year is likely to affect both UK and international students in almost the exact same way. Many international syllabuses in the more ‘theoretical’ subjects like History, Geography, Maths and others are almost identical to those in the UK where coursework has largely been phased out in favour of exams. On the other hand, many of the creative subjects like Art, Drama, Music and Physical Education have continued to incorporate a coursework element and like our students may have completed all or part of those sections by the time the Schools closed. The current guidance from the exam boards is probably the best they could do in the circumstances as they had to work towards awarding grades based on the best available evidence from the respective Schools. Though this is obviously not the preferred option when weighed against what has traditionally been the certainty of the examinations process, that it the situation for every school around the globe so we now need to focus on completing the courses to the best of our abilities and provide the best possible evidence of progress of our students.
- Given the uncertainty, what do you advice parents/students, especially the Year 13s to do in preparing for the seemingly unknown? Is there a possibility for an August/September exam cycle?Mr. Andwati: Firstly, that as a School, we are going to work towards providing the best possible evidence of testing and progress to the examination boards so that they in turn can issue information to the exam boards ‘final’ graduating grades for the students that will be used to secure their university places. Students should therefore use this holiday to continue working; revising, writing practice essays, using all resources available to them from their subject teachers in readiness for the School’s exams next term- however these will be administered. Secondly, the exam boards have put in place a mechanism for students to appeal their grades if not satisfied (similar to the way students request the re-marking of A Level exams where dissatisfied with the outcome). It would be best to exhaust that process as the exam boards have speculated about but not explicitly said that there will be an August/September exam cycle. If there turns out to be one, students taking that option would likely be aiming to take a gap year as it is unlikely that the exam results would be processed in time to be the basis of a September university entry (considering the fairly lengthy post-exam results scenario including the processing of the international student visa). In answering this question, I will paraphrase something said by Mr. Ivar Moller, the deputy Director of Admissions at St Andrew’s University (Scotland) during an international counselors’ webinar today. Mr. Moller told the students that his best advice would be to do their best to do what is within their control and finish off their high school courses in the best way they can. He reminded them that like their university interviews now or their job interviews they will come across later in life, the students should spare no effort in putting the best version of themselves forward. Hopefully they get ‘the university’ or ‘the job’ of their dreams. However, if they don’t quite get what they hoped for, there are millions of people around the world every year who go on to do great things despite not ‘finishing in first place’.
- Something for the Year 11s?Mrs. Andwati:Like Mr. Andwati, I would urge them to do their best and not invest all their time worrying about what they cannot control. At the moment the School is working on the logistics of a final exam next term. Year 11 students, like their counterparts in Year 13, should use the holiday getting through revision resources that have been provided for them by their subject teachers and relevant online material that they are able to access. The ‘finals’ , together with other tests and exams that have been done over the academic year thus far, will play an integral part in deciding their IGCSE grades. Should they really wish to appeal and/or re-sit exams later, they could do so. However, they should remember that the IGCSE is just one stage on their learning journey. Another more challenging journey awaits all of them. The next phase is even more important as it is the main basis for their higher education prospects.Finish the IGCSE course well, then spend some of the long June-August holiday taking on some of the numerous online learning experiences available, read around your subjects and also begin to familiarise yourselves with the A Level syllabus. One day, you will look back at these times as a reminder of the resilience which was built into your system and how you emerged victorious so as much as life may not look great at the moment, God always makes sure that no lesson in life is wasted and that everything we go through can help us to grow stronger and better.
- A word of advice for students in general?Mr. Andwati:I would also count our blessings that we have had God’s hand upon us this year. Our College students have continued to set the pace with success in sports, drama, music, Law debates and a whole host of co-curricular activities. We have had numerous universities coming to Turi as part of individual university presentations. The quality of student leadership through both the Prefects and the Student Council has been outstanding, showing the impact of both the Turi Leadership Award and the Round Square IDEALS being put into practice in School life. The 20-20 programme has grown, offering support to those students wishing to apply to competitive universities and courses.There have also been two very successful UK university fairs in Turi (September 2019 and January 2020), as well as first ever Australian and Canadian university mini-fairs (both in January 2020). We have students sitting their ACT exams in Turi and improving their scores progressively. We are really grateful that students are achieving moving on from Turi to greater things, whether that means a top university with very competitive entry for one student or admission to small sized university which will help another student specialise in a particular area, all round we have seen students embracing the School’s ethos and seeking the highest in every area and it is our hope that everyone stays safe and that we meet again soon, to usher each student into the next chapter in their educational journey regardless of whether that happens to be another year in Turi or a new phase of life elsewhere.God Bless You.
- As parents of a student who was to sit the A level exams in May/June, what has been your experience?