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Sabita Mahase mother of scholarship winner Shania Ramsumair.

Knowing her mother’s struggles as a single parent, Shania Ramsumair studied from night into the wee hours of the morning to ensure she got top grades in the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) so that her mother would not have to pay her university fees.

While there were tears of joy yesterday when the Ministry of Education announced scholarship winners, it was painful for Ramsumair. The exceptional former student of Laksmi Girls’ Hindu College, St Augustine got all Grade ones in four subject areas in 2020. She got top marks in her profile grades for Caribbean Studies, Chemistry Unit 2, Physics Unit 2 and Pure Mathematics Unit 2.

Her mother, Sabita Mahase said that given her daughter’s success, they expected an open scholarship. Shania even got two acceptance letters from the University of Toronto and McGill University in Canada. With her dream to study at the University of Toronto, she enrolled in a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in TrackOne, Undeclared Engineering.

“I am going to challenge this. My daughter even got an A-star in Cambridge chemistry, which is the highest grade someone can get. She got accepted into the University of Toronto. With the help of my family, we all chipped in and paid for the first semester. We were convinced that she would get an open scholarship based on her qualifications. She is now in the second semester, and I do not know where I will go from here,” Mahase said.

It is hard being a single mother, Mahase said. She was unemployed for a long time and recently found employment, but she does not earn enough to help her daughter fulfil her dream of becoming an engineer. It is also too costly to afford a lawyer to challenge the scholarship choices, so she is appealing to anyone willing to help. Most of all, she wants the Ministry to review its selection process.

“This needs to be justified. It cannot be justice.”

During the announcement of yesterday’s scholarship recipients, Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby -Dolly announced a reduction in scholarships from 400 to 100. The Ministry introduced a National Bursary programme in which 600 successful applicants could access financial assistance for university fees.

Contacted yesterday, Gadsby-Dolly told Guardian Media that currently, National Scholarships are offered in 10 different cognate groups to the top 10 performing students in each.

She said that in 2019, approximately 75 per cent of scholarships were awarded in just three of the 10 cognate groups: Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Business. The present arrangement allows high performing students in the other seven cognate groups to be awarded, representing a wider range of investment by the government in areas critical for national development.

Gadsby-Dolly said the National Scholarship Policy was revised and refocused in November 2020 to support 600 students, with the introduction of 500 National Bursaries in addition to the 100 National Scholarships; instead of the 400 students which obtained previously when only scholarships were offered.

“This refocusing allows the government to support more students with less funding, as our reduced finances do not allow the level of funding which was expended previously. The bursary process also allows the government to invest funding for training in areas that are on the national developmental priority list. The Minister of Finance has been clear on the difficulty of our financial position, and even under these circumstances, more students are being supported than before- 600 vs 400. The scholarship committee of the MOE (Ministry of Education) awarded 100 National Scholarships, 10 per cognate group, solely based on merit, using the merged, 2-year aggregate CAPE scores obtained from CXC,” Gadsby-Dolly said.

The National Bursary programme is available for local or regional study. The National Bursary Policy, along with FAQs and Guidelines and Procedures will be placed on the MOE’s website on Monday 15 March 2021, when applications open.

Being rejected after hard work is devastating, and Mahase said Ramsumair has not been eating or talking to anyone in the family. It reminded her of when she sat the Secondary Entrance Examination. Despite high marks, the Ministry placed her in her fourth choice school. Mahase said she queried the placement, and the Ministry eventually assigned her to St Joseph’s Convent. By that time, Ramsumair was already in Laksmi Girls.

“She locked herself in her room. Not even I could get in at all. Only one of her friends she spoke to. She told her friend that while everyone was going to fetes, she sacrificed. She used to go to bed at 6 o’clock in the morning to get up at 7 o’clock to go to school.

“When she was done, she would go to lessons. She studied hard just to get this open scholarship to go to Uni (University) because she knew I could not afford it. Just so, they took away this dream from my child.”