11-Plus ‘an injustice too’
Professor Joel Warrican says it is an injustice that in the face of trauma from COVID-19 and the ash fall, pupils are still being made to take the Common Entrance examination.
Warrican, the director of the School of Education at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, was critical of the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) on its stance with CSEC and CAPE exams as well as Caribbean education ministries’ position on the Common Entrance.
His statement came two days after the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the watchdog for children’s rights, urged Caribbean ministries of education to prevail upon CXC to make changes to the exams so as not to disadvantage students.
The professor said he was reluctant to enter the debate up until that point, stating it was laudable that UNICEF had taken up the cause but pointed out the appeal “may be going to the wrong ears”.
“While persons point to the plight of the secondary school-age students and the perceived injustice being dealt to them by CXC, I believe that they are overlooking another injustice wrought by others in a different quarter.
“And, unfortunately, it is to this quarter that UNICEF is appealing. Here I am speaking of the injustice perpetuated by said ministries of education that, in the face of all the trauma, have still found a way of ensuring that primary school students write the Common Entrance Examination, known by different names in different countries in the region, but the same beast. Ministries of education are finding it convenient and safe for these children to return to in-person classes in schools in this the third term of the academic year so that they can be ‘adequately’ prepared to write this ‘screening’ test,” he said.
He explained that while most English-speaking Caribbean countries report having forms of continuous assessment in primary schools, the examination remained the unshakeable and relied-on means of transferring students to secondary schools as a fair system.
“I wish to contend that rather than being fair, it is unjust, as it perpetuates a system of elitism that ensures that students from certain backgrounds are awarded places in prestigious schools while the others are farmed out to schools that are under-resourced and under-valued.
“On what moral grounds will ministries of education that uphold this inequitable system appeal to CXC? Am I the only one seeing the hypocrisy in such an appeal, should it be tendered?” he asked.
He also questioned whether secondary schools, especially those boasting of having continuous assessment, could justify the need to have students return to the classroom to prepare for promotion examinations.
“Even in ‘normal’ times, this system of high-stakes examinations plays havoc with the mental and psychological state of students. I wish to submit that in these unprecedented times of COVID-19 and volcanic eruptions, the toll that King Examinations is taking on students is even higher.
“The fact that the examination culture is deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of the region’s people has become a trump card for CXC, ministries of education and, to a lesser extent, schools. Whenever examinations are ‘threatened’, the notion of ‘fairest way’ is invoked and the support of the masses tends to be thrown behind the perpetuation of the reign of the king,” the educator said.
He said he was disappointed in CXC not finding creative ways of certifying students.
“Indeed, when an attempt at this was made in 2020, the outcome was disastrous, causing great anxiety among students, their parents and their teachers. What made the situation even worse was CXC’s attempt to defend their indefensible actions in a manner that many felt was arrogant, disrespectful and uncaring. It is unfortunate that this same attitude is discernible in CXC’s behaviour this year.”
Warrican suggested CXC develop friendlier models that maintain the integrity of the certification and were not so heavily dependent on examinations “come hell or high water” and that ministries hold CXC more accountable. (AC)