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President’s Medal winner Amrit Galbaran, of Hillview College, demonstrates a card trick at his Curepe home yesterday.

Anna-Lisa Paul

Hillview College’s Amrit Galbaran and Naparima Girls’ High School’s Anjali Maharaj are the 2020 President’s Medal winners.

Galbaran was awarded in the category of Environmental Studies, Information and Communication Technology, Mathematics and Natural Sciences; while Maharaj was awarded in the category of Business Studies, Creative and Performing Studies, General Studies, Humanities/Modern Studies, Language Studies and Technical Studies.

A total of 23 schools were awarded scholarships for 2020 with Maharaj’s school earning the most with 12.

Surrounded by his parents Norris and Barbara, along with sisters Priya and Amy, at his home in Curepe yesterday, it was a cool and calm but excited Galbaran who said the news had come as a big surprise.

Dressed in Indian attire ahead of last evening’s Shivatri prayers, the 19-year-old said, “This was very overwhelming to me.”

Part of the historic group that was forced to adapt to the changes wrought by the COVID-19 virus, the aspiring doctor said, “We are all humans and we have to adapt to change. I was able to adapt my studies to suit the change in the format of the examination and I kept a clear eye on what I had to do and what I had to study for.”

Claiming the virus had not distracted him in any way, he urged others “to just keep your eyes on the prize. If you have a goal, just work towards it.”

Joking that he had also been hoping to become a “magician” on the side, as he is obsessed with cards and illusions, Galbaran thanked God and his parents for always supporting him.

Crediting his mom for ensuring he had meals, clean clothes and a comfortable home in which to study, Galbaran said his father invested in an advanced virtual system which proved to be “an asset to my studies.”

Having been accepted by the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies’ St Augustine Campus, Galbaran’s family said they will now reconsider if he will be going abroad to study.

To those writing exams this year, Galbaran said, “Adapt and be open to change, be open with your parents. Talk to them. Seek advice from them. Seek advice from your colleagues. Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.”

Galbaran said if one is daunted by the reduction in the number of scholarships being awarded, persons might not be as focused.

He added, “Do not not believe in yourself. You could be one of those 100.”

However, he added, “It’s like a lottery, you have a chance. You just got to put in the work and don’t let that demotivate you. If they change how many scholarships they give, you change how much work you put in. It now becomes harder to get a scholarship but when you do get it, it will be worth it.”

Galbaran’s achievement has been described by acting Hillview College principal Derek Bissessar as “the icing on the cake.”

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw schools having to close their doors on March 16, 2020, Bissessar said it was under very trying circumstances this feat was accomplished. He confirmed the last time the school copped the prestigious award was in 2005.

Galbaran’s lessons teacher Vanessa Ramoutar-Singh said she was the first person to contact the family with the news after reading it on social media. Indicating her joy over the news, she said Galbaran has always been a hard-working and diligent student who was focused on what he wanted. She tutored Galbaran in Communication Studies.

Congratulating the recipients yesterday as she announced the award of 100 scholarships at an estimated cost of $35 million per year, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said the 50 Open and 50 Additional scholarships for the academic year 2019/2020 were based on the results of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam (CAPE) 2020.

She said the top ten candidates received scholarships comprising five Open and five Additional in cognate groups based “solely on academic performance.”

The subject groupings included Business Studies; Environmental Studies; Humanities/Modern Studies; Language Studies; Natural Sciences; Creative and Performing Studies; General Studies; Information and Communication Technology; Mathematics; and Technical Studies.

Reaffirming Government’s commitment to supporting the future leaders of this country, Gadsby-Dolly said while the number of scholarships had been reduced from 400 to just 100, the offer of a national bursary would help many other students to off-set financial costs moving forward.

She said 500 national bursaries are now available to be awarded annually to deserving students and invited students to apply.

“The introduction of the National Bursary Programme provides a means for ensuring that the most vulnerable groups, the most talented students and the most targeted areas for national development are supported,” Gadsby-Dolly said.

She said the new programme will allow for the strategic rationalisation of funding mechanisms available under the ministry; ensures well-performing and talented students have access to higher education regardless of socio-economic status without incurring debts and supports national development by aligning bursary grants to programme areas identified as meeting national priority.

The application form for national bursaries will be available from March 15-April 12 on the ministry’s website.

Gadsby-Dolly described this as “a different type of support” where 600 persons will now be receiving Government’s support.