Blackout prompts idea for back-up power for schools

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In light of recent power outages and noting the move to online testing in schools in Antigua and Barbuda, the Ministry of Education will be forced to equip examination centers with back-up power.

“We have to make sure that centers will all have some back-up source of power. One of the immediate things we are going to have to do is look at [Uninterruptible Power Sources] UPS,” Director of Education, Clare Browne said in a recent interview.

A blackout which took place shortly after 10 am on Monday left some parts of the island in the dark and this was on the first day of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations.

This is the second blackout to hit the country in less than a month.

During the Labour Day blackout, students were sitting the Electronic Document Preparation and Management (EDPM) exam, which was being done online in 22 centers across the island. 

OBSERVER media understands that several students lost all their information and had to begin from scratch when the power came back more than an hour later.

Some students even complained that they had not been given enough time to finish the exam after the power was restored.

According to Browne, the initial report he received was that the situation might have caused the exams to protract way into the afternoon with some students in some centers not being able to quite complete the EDPM exam.

Some private schools, however, were able to switch to their generators. Following this pattern, Browne said that back-up power sources will have to be supplied to every school.

Browne also assured students that special considerations will be accorded to those who were affected by the power outage on Labour Day.

 “At the end of the day, no student should be disadvantaged as a result of anything that is totally outside of their control and what happened [Monday] is outside of the control of the students and cannot be, and will not be. We will do everything to ensure that it will not be held against the students in any way,” Browne said.

 “[Yesterday] we would have made further contact with [the Caribbean Examinations Council] CXC indicating, reiterating the adverse conditions under which the students had to operate [Monday]. Now it is important for those things to be communicated to CXC because the way it works, as they mark those exams those adverse situations are factored into coming up with a final grade,” he added.

Speaking generally, Browne said that the procedure in these circumstances involves writing to CXC and they consider as they mark, several factors including students’ performance throughout the year, Student Based Assessment (SBA) grades and the other exam papers and all mitigating factors such as the blackout.

“There are structures in place. This is not the first time that some adverse situation would have occurred and CXC would have to make a judgement as to how to treat the situation,” the Director of Education said.

“The proposed considerations would be submitted to the [Final Awards Committee] FAC and FAC will ultimately make a decision as to what the grades are like,” the Director of Education explained.

The Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) has since issued a statement, on social media, apologizing for Monday’s unplanned outage.

Electricity Business Unit Manager, Andre Matthias said a fault at Antigua Power Company’s 50-megawatt power plant at Crabbs is what caused the problem.

 “The 17 megawatts were carrying about 15 megawatts which is approximately half of the demand on the grid. Now, the operators at the plant recognize that an alarm had come up on that particular unit and they moved to shut down that plant and before they shut down the plant you want to put on other generators so you don’t have any deficiency or any shortage of generation. But apparently the unit went into shutdown mode and came offline and that is what initiated everything so we had a total collapse,” Matthias said.

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