WHEN fraternal twins Rebekah and Rachel Joseph were both awarded a place at Queen’s College after writing the 2021 National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), their achievement was celebrated all across the far-flung community of Free and Easy, where they live, and at the Vive La Force Primary where they attended school.
The twins’ achievement marked the first time that pupils from the Region Three community, and from the Vive-La-Force Primary School would have earned a place at the country’s premier secondary school.
Rebekah, an aspiring pediatrician, gained 516 marks, and was also among the region’s top ten performers. Her twin, Rachel, an aspiring engineer, got a total of 512 marks, putting them both above the 510 cut-off mark for QC.
“It was excitement to the extreme when we heard that; I was excited to the point where I even got chest pain,” expressed Headteacher of the Vive-La-Force Primary, Gaitree Mathura-Smith.
“It’s history for the community; it’s history for the school. So, it was just a celebration all over; the community and the school, because we all know of the hardship of the community.”
Sharing her sentiments was Grade Six teacher Nichola Standford, who said: “They break the cycle for this school, because our school has never gotten a school in Georgetown. They have now set a high standard for the others to come.”
Located at an estimated five miles off the West Bank Demerara main road, Free-And-Easy is a quiet and peaceful farming village that is home to roughly 200 persons. The Vive-La-Force Primary is located approximately 1.5 miles from the community.
The school, which also includes a nursery section, is a small one with just 80 learners and eight teachers. For the school, it was a great moment to prove that they could be small but mighty.
The girls were just two of seven pupils at the school who wrote the NGSA this year. The others were able to gain places at a secondary school.
The twin girls are overjoyed at their accomplishment, but, most of all, they are glad that they were able to achieve their main goal, which is ensuring that they both were attending the same secondary school.
The girls shared that they worked very hard with each other to ensure that they were at the same level.
“We encourage each other with studying, and remind each other of work that we forget, and help each other with subjects we don’t understand. I understand Maths very well, so I help her with that, and she understands Grammar, so she helps me with Grammar,” Rachel shared.
Pursuing their education in their far-flung community had not been easy over the years, especially given that public transportation is not available between the two communities. So, they would often have to walk the distance to get to school. This becomes a particular hassle during the rainy season, when the road becomes deplorable.
“When rain falls, the road gets muddy. And when we are coming to school, the water would pitch up and dirty our clothes, and we would get to school late,” Rebekah shared.
The pair faced new challenges when the school was closed to physical learning in 2020 due to COVID-19, and teaching was being done virtually. Though homes in the community does not have Internet access, the girls were able to utilise the community’s Internet hub, which allowed them to get some amount of school done.
In another first for the school this year, the pupils were allowed to write their NGSA exams at their school. Due to their small numbers, children at the school would customarily travel to write their exams at the Patentia Primary school.
Mathura-Smith believes the move may have made all the difference in helping the pupils, and she hopes to see the school continuing to be a NGSA centre.
“When these children go out there to write the exam, they would even be bullied, and don’t know anyone out there. So they tend to pull back, and they are shy; they get fearful and agitated. So, when we found out in here was a centre, I was so glad, and the children were so relaxed during the exam,” the HM explained.
Both Rebakah and Rachel said that not having to travel really made a great difference for them, with Rebekah saying: “I felt very comfortable, because I knew the surrounding, and it helped me not to be nervous.
Rachel added: “I felt very confident, and very happy that we got to write at our school. And it was safer.”
The 11-year-olds learnt of their success on Friday when the NGSA results were announced by Minister of Education Priya Manickchand.
Rebekah was identified as one of the region’s top ten performers. The celebration started after it was confirmed that Rachel had also made it into QC.
“If the two of them were separated, it would have been a great challenge for them, because they were always together. They always say we want to go to the same school,” shared their mother, Grace Joseph.
After it was confirmed that both girls got QC, the community-wide celebrations began. The proud mother said the girls’ accomplishment means a lot, not just to her family, but for the entire community.
“Most people in Free-and-Easy think you go to school, you get a job, and that’s it. Many young girls would fall out of school, and that’s it. Now we can see that with education, hard work, and with the help of God, our children can be successful,” said Grace, who is also a teacher at the Vive-La-Force Primary School.
Rebekah hopes that their achievement will stand as a beacon of hope for others. “I feel very happy,” she said. “And I hope it helps to encourage other students to push harder in their studies.”
Rachel said: “We feel very proud of ourselves that we are able to carry up our school high, and we are glad that our school was able to place in the top of the region.”
Mathura-Smith said she would always encourage her learners to dream big, and to see themselves as much more than what others may think of the community.
“When I spoke to them before the exams, I would tell the children, ‘Don’t see yourself as bush-corner people,’ because that is what the outsiders tend to call this area. I would tell them, ‘See yourselves as QC students; aim for the sky.’ I would drill them with that, and say, ‘Come on, we have to put our school on the map,’” the HM recalled.
Aside from supporting each other, the girls said they received support from their teachers and parents, which was a great push during their time studying.