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EDITORIAL: 11-Plus failing us

Barbados Nation

EDITORIAL: 11-Plus failing us

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EARLIER THIS WEEK the Ministry of Education, through the Barbados Government Information Service, made one of its annual announcements related to the Barbados Secondary Schools Entrance Examination, commonly referred to as the Common Entrance of 11-Plus exam.

In that statement, officials at Elsie Payne Complex on Constitution Road noted that on May 3 a total of 3 525 primary school students will write the exam as they vie for places at one of two dozen secondary schools on the island.

As innocuous as the brief press release might appear, it serves once again to question the country’s maintenance of the exam as a method of transferring students from one level of the system to the other, particularly when this matter has been the subject of robust and continuous debate for at least a quarter century.

The 11-Plus comes out of a system of so called “grammar schools” that existed at a time when there were far more students to be placed that there were places to be had. In a bygone era the exam in essence separated the “bright” for the not so bright, and gifted the best young minds to the halls of institutions such as Harrison College, Queen’s College, Combermere, The Lodge, The St Michael School, Coleridge & Parry, Alexandra, Alleyne School and Christ Church Foundation.

But it has been many years that the combined school plant across the island has been adequate to the task of housing every child who reached the “magical” age of 11 years. This has resulted in a decades-old debate about the pros and cons of continuing a system that still filters out the supposed “bright” from the not so bright, confining the latter to a life at the so-called newer secondary schools, which now outnumber the old grammar variety.

We do not pretend to have the answer to the many legitimate questions that have been raised over the years about the maintenance of this clearly flawed approach to transferring or graduating our pre-teen children, but by now our national approach to this matter should have made some progress.

Sadly, we still stack the brightest in a few schools and transfer en masse a large number of poorer performers to institutions that could reasonably do with major improvement in the resources provided for handling the annual influx of children who need special attention.

At the same time there can be no denying the fact that by dividing our children in this manner each year we continue to perpetuate the perception – or perhaps the reality – that our schools are not equal; or perhaps more appropriately that some are just now fit to receive some of our better performers.

And we continue this approach even while recognising that these children would have functioned together in their most critical primary school years in the same classrooms; while we recognise that the country’s resources are stretched thin bussing children across the island when the nearest school is a short distance away; and while we have lots of evidence to support the contention that long and often late commuting is contributing in a major way to deviance and antisocial conduct.

Whether or not we want to accept it, the maintenance of the Common Entrance Exam helps to support a system of elitism in education that is absolutely unnecessary today.

It is well beyond the time when the system of continuous assessment toward eventual transfer, initiated by the Ministry of Education, be put back on the table. Alternatively, matters such as geography and bus routes need to be factored into a system of transferring students to secondary schools based on proximity between where they live and the location of the “nearest” school.

And if none of these is workable it does not mean we cannot come up with a more appropriate approach that is more relevant to Barbados in 2016, its education needs in the future and the importance of ensuring that every child has the best possible opportunity to maximise his or her potential.