by Dr Didacus Jules
This year, 2013 marks the 40th Anniversary of the establishment of the Caribbean Examinations Council and while the organisation has been promoting the milestone, it is a significant watershed that is insufficiently noted at all levels in the Caribbean.
The anniversary is being celebrated under the theme “Celebrating the Accomplishments; Continuing the Journey” and this speaks volumes to the vision that continues to drive this sterling regional organisation.
The move to establish the Caribbean Examinations Council was a bold move in 1973 and a very strong assertion of the confidence of visionary leaders in our capacity to take responsibility for our own destiny. They were not however blind to the considerable challenges that this posed.
At the inauguration of CXC, then Prime Minister Errol Barrow spoke to the challenges as well as the self-confidence of that defining moment: “I do not think that anyone imagines that the task of the Caribbean Examinations Council will be an easy one. This body will have to develop and master skills acquired by the overseas examinations bodies after more than a century of trial and error.
“It will have to break down prejudices which blindly accept the imported as superior to the local product… There is every reason to believe that this new venture in education will also be successful.”
Forty years later, there is no doubt that the venture has been successful, although, sadly there are those today who are still crippled by the prejudice which believes that anything foreign is intrinsically better.
The persistence of such views is only a reflection of insecurity and self-doubt since the accomplishments of CXC over these past 40 years speak convincingly of the power of the Caribbean to innovate and achieve. From the inception of the first examinations in 1979 to today, 6.2 million Caribbean persons from 19 territories have written CXC exams.
The council now offers a comprehensive suite of certification that spans from the primary exit to pre-university. An impressive array of subjects is now offered at different levels in humanities, sciences and technical areas: 34 subjects are offered at CSEC, 46 units at CAPE, and CVQs in 193 areas.
CXC was the first regional or international board to introduce school based assessment as a formal and integral element of its assessment. The syllabi developed for the CSEC and CAPE subjects have set standards and harmonised secondary education across 19 territories of the region including some of the Dutch-speaking Caribbean.
The scale of operations has grown in complexity. In 1979 the first CSEC exam was offered to 30,276 candidates in five subjects. In 2011, the council offered 99 exams in CCSLC, CSEC and CAPE to 227,755 candidates from 17 countries. Almost 6,000 Caribbean teachers assisted in the marking of these exams.
We will do well to be guided by the assertion of the longest serving Prime Minister of Jamaica, PJ Patterson, that: “The challenges which we face oblige us, not just out of a question of sentiment, but of shared necessity, to pool our collective strengths and combine all our resources in the development of the Caribbean to which we belong.”
As the shadows of uncertainty lengthen in the global economy and the contractions hit closer home, it should be clear to us that no Caribbean territory — no matter how big, how rich, how smart, how cohesive or how special we may delude ourselves to be — can weather this storm alone. Eric Williams warned prophetically at the departure of Jamaica from the Federation that “one from 10 leaves 0”.
Our capacity to weather the unrelenting tide of globalisation with its threats as well as its opportunities requires that we learn a new arithmetic of integration – that 1 plus 1 equals not 2 but 11.
What could and should be the trajectory for CXC’s continuation of the journey? CXC is intent on providing increasingly wider and more varied opportunities for the Caribbean learner through all phases of the educational quest — from primary to professional certification.
CXC is intent on going global with its certification and its innovations starting with the Caribbean Diaspora and other Commonwealth countries. Notesmaster (www.notesmaster.com) is an interactive portal developed by Caribbean citizens in the Diaspora that facilitates interactive learning centred on CXC syllabuses and is the vehicle for virtual teacher development groups.
We need to recognize that education is now a major service sector in the global economy and that the preservation of the hegemony of the traditional providers is not as much about standards as it is about trade. British examination boards brought in 198 million pounds into the British economy in 2004 from foreign candidates sitting their exams worldwide.
It is almost impossible to predict what the next 10 years will bring for the Caribbean and even more unpredictably what the next 40 will yield. But one thing is indisputable — what lies in store for the next 40 will fundamentally depend on the state and shape of the human resources of the region.
Many industries will fail, many new opportunities will open up, but whether we sink or we swim will depend on the strength of character, the entrepreneurial and creative capacity, the resilience of will and the currency of skills of the Caribbean person.
As long as the political leadership of the Caribbean does not betray the vision of integration for the illusion of individual survival, the Caribbean Examinations Council is well placed to assure the global human resource competitiveness and the regenerative capability of this emerald chain.
* Dr Didacus Jules in CXC Registrar.