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11-Plus – whey de watchdogs?


Sherwyn Walters

11-Plus – whey de watchdogs?

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AH WAS PLANNING, not to forget calypso and go and plant peas in Tobago, like the Mighty Shadow was thinking circa 1975, but to leave the Common Entrance thing for the time being after dealing with it for the last two weeks. But . . .
Like the Shadow, who kept hearing a bass man in his head, I kept hearing, “This thing is base, man” in my head.
And then I received this email: “I am a 29-year-old female who has a first degree with honours and teacher training with a double distinction.
However, when people see me they only see me as the girl who attended [looked-down-upon school].
BCC (Barbados Community College) and university [at Cave Hill] were a struggle and a fight because people wanted to know how I came from a duncy school and attended these institutions.
At BCC I was even asked by classmates the occupations of my parents. Your article today is so true. Common Entrance is so unfair.”
And I remembered that I have received other emails like that. And know of other similar stories.
Like that of my friend, whose two Master’s degrees and constant beseechings by university tutors to come back and do doctorates in two areas have not yet, forty-something years after his Common Entrance, beaten back the not-well-enough-hidden contempt by those who are not his equal in intellect or character or achievements, who ask and get the answer that he did not pass for any of the “good schools”.
And other holders of high-profile positions in this Buhbaydus, who still get ignoble, elitist responses from people who passed the Common Entrance Exam but continue to fail more important life tests.
Added to the above, a friend of mine told me, “Sherwyn, yuh fuhget de media . . . . The media does contribute to the nonsense.”
So, like Chalkie in 1976, “ah put on me guns again”.
Now, unlike Mac, I feel the Press is nobody’s cheering section, nobody’s motivator. Taking care to do the job with accuracy, legality and good taste, and with an adherence to the most significant news values, the media must be the watchdog for the people, including those who might be very put out that they coughed up X amount of dollars to hear an out-of-key singer.
But I en really dealing with that.
There is virtually no media watchdogging in relation to the Common Entrance/11-Plus. What the media in Barbados do (I going with the purists’ plural, although a singular verb here is now virtually standard too) in respect of that exam is really PR for the status quo.
The media have allowed themselves to be sucked into the source’s spin, engaging the exam exclusively on exam day itself and on results day by quizzing children, parents and school officials in very narrow, uninsightful ways.
Where is the watchdogging? Where is the digging out of answers to vital questions like these: What percentage of children, both at individual schools and nationally, really passed (got 60 per cent or more) in each of the three tested areas? How are schools adjusting their methodologies and frameworks to accomplish the widest possible level of success? Are primary school streaming students, and if so, why?
Why is competence in language usage measured more through students’ engaging decontextualized grammar items than through their production of continuous writing? What is the evidence of strong efforts to mitigate failure? What intervention strategies are primary schools using to try to ensure that students that are behind catch up to the required level?
Is the end of primary school national exam acutely sensitive to and in line with next-level expectations? Why is a stratified transfer to secondary schools considered our best option? What is the social/psychological/emotional fallout for those who do not do well in the exam?
And we gotta find questions to ask people who passed and acquired a swell-headedness that has been financed, if not mandated, by the public purse.
In failing to investigate these and other critical matters, media outlets have aided and abetted the school system, especially institutions at the primary level, in hiding behind the rampant interest in which “top” schools some students have passed for.  
Consequently, they have allowed to pass under the radar the absolute necessity of primary schools truly aiming at large-scale success and have colluded in the national numbness to the educational, psychological and social burden imposed on children when, in addition to not doing our utmost to keep failure at bay, we compound our sin by hierarchizing all into secondary schools.
Media people, the watchdog must watch. And, when necessary, bark and bite – for the sake of our people.
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]

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