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11-Plus just a social tool

Anthony Griffith

11-Plus just a social tool

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In further reference to school allocations, one normally expects that the less time students have to spend travelling to and from school, the more time and opportunity they will have to focus on their school work.
So it would be useful  to hear in what ways it is beneficial to a young child, at 11 or 12 years of age,  to have to travel  every day from St Phillip to a school in St James  or St Thomas.
It is also difficult to grasp the logic in actually requiring a child from  St John to by-pass seven or eight other secondary schools in order to attend one in St James. It is not immediately clear how this is beneficial to the student. A similar point was recently made by  Sir Frederick Smith  in a radio interview on Voice Of Barbados.
To compound the injustice, a child who is required to travel from  St George to Daryll Jordan Secondary in St Lucy, actually driving past five or six other schools in the process, is then likely to face the prospect of being punished – or even sent back home – for getting  to school late. A total  and pointless waste of money, resources, time, and a child’s learning opportunity and potential – not to mention the negative impact on  the child’s psyche, sense  of fairness, self-esteem  and future learning!
An article in the Advocate newspaper of October 8, 2012, indicates that only ten per cent of the students at Alleyne School are residents of St Andrew  – a mere 80 students out of approximately 800 students at the school.  
If correct, this suggests that 90 per cent of the students at the school (over 700 students) are daily being bussed into the school from other parishes. And, at the same time, large numbers of students from St Andrew are being bussed out to other schools in other parishes.
One needs to ask  (i) whether the same situation obtains at other secondary schools, (ii) what is the economic and environmental cost of this large-scale bussing; and (iii) what is the  actual educational  benefit  of it.
The evidence suggests that the situation at Alleyne School is  not unique.
There are instances,  at some schools, of forms in which fewer than ten per cent of the students are residents of the  parish in which the  school is located.
And there are at least two secondary schools to which students are bussed in from up to eight other parishes other than the one where the school is located. What are the educational benefits?
Maybe some research  is urgently needed into whether the time spent and the distance travelled daily to school by these  12-year-olds have any impact on their academic performance and on  their social behaviour  and adjustment.  
On the evidence, therefore, it would appear that the Common Entrance Exam is educationally unsound, socially disruptive, developmentally disadvantageous and based on elements of intellectual hypocrisy.  It seems therefore that  its real purpose resides more in its use as  a social selection mechanism, rather than  as an instrument  of any particular educational value.  
In a recent (2008) publication entitled Education And Society In The Creole Caribbean by Smith & Comitas, it is observed that the basic system of transfer from primary to secondary school in Barbados has not changed since 1959. The reason given for this persistence is that “. . . The political will to bring about fundamental changes has been lacking.” (p. 146).
 It further posits  (p. 147) that “. . . until the old mould of selection for access to secondary schools is broken and not merely tinkered with, the vast majority of the Barbadian public will not believe that all secondary schools are equal, (and) will not make a ‘newer’ secondary school the first choice for their children . . . .”
Prior to this, The Barbados Physical Development Plan, 1993-2000, clearly acknowledges (p. 68): “There is a growing recognition that the [Barbados Secondary Schools Entrance Examination], better known as the  Eleven-Plus, exerts adverse effects on the curriculum, instruction, pupil achievement and ultimately on the quality of education.”  
Preparation for the exam, the plan further declares, tends to be associated with  restrictive teaching methodologies, disproportionate time allocated to mathematics and English, neglect of pupils with learning disabilities, and limiting the creative potential of students (my emphasis).
And in a further contradiction: while we rail against all vestiges of colonialism, we yet cling tenaciously to the Common Entrance Exam.
It is noted that, in a recent (April, 2012) lecture entitled Exorcising The Demons Of Colonialism, the dean of the St Vincent Community College classifies the Common Entrance Exam as one.
• Anthony Griffith is a former senior lecturer in education, UWI,  Cave Hill.