We at Barbados TODAY have used this space on several occasions to compliment Minister of Education Ronald Jones on positions he has taken on critical matters relating to education and youth. No doubt, we will have reason to offer congratulations to him in the future.
If there is one thing that separates Jones from a number of his colleagues, past and present, it is his forthright nature. You may not agree with him, but he speaks his mind, and in so doing provokes discussion. As far as we are concerned, 99 per cent of the time discussion helps rather than impedes the process.
On this occasion though, we have to disagree with the position taken by the minister in relation to the Common Entrance Examination, as he spoke yesterday at the official opening of a new preschool in Christ Church. According to one media report, Jones said he would not be rushed by anyone into changing the method by which students are transferred from primary to secondary school — not without “sensible conversation”.
On the face of it, which “sensible” person could find fault with such a position?
The problem, however, is that while Minister Jones may consider calls for change within the context of his watch at the ministry, to the average person such matters can’t be segmented into convenient blocks that are defined by the tenure of individual ministers.
The discussion about the 11-plus is decades old, and started in Barbados well ahead of other regional countries that have already moved on to new or adjusted transfer methods — so there can be nothing “rushed” about any such debate today. This, if our recollection is accurate, goes back as far as when Billie Miller [now Dame Billie] was Minister of Education and Walter Burke was her permanent secretary. That, to some, was a lifetime ago.
Again, if our recollection is not corrupted, parents of students who sat the Common Entrance Exam in 2001 would recall that three years earlier they were summoned to their children’s primary schools to be informed about the new continuous assessment initiative which their children would have been the first to experience.
By the time the exam came around, however, nothing had changed, and the only thing that counted toward their secondary school placement was their score in the exam. These “children” are either about to graduate university, recently graduated, or are well established in places of employment — and perhaps with children of their own. But we are still talking about Common Entrance.
There has been nothing rushed about Barbados’ 11-plus exam debate!
We readily accept that unlike some of our Caribbean neighbours, Barbados has long had a system of universal secondary education, characterised by an infrastructure that can comfortably accommodate all 11 year olds. So in a true sense it is really not a competition for places here — it is a perpetuation of a system that gives an unfair advantage in the claiming of bragging rights to certain schools by stacking them with the top achievers in the exam.
Whether it is done today or tomorrow, we are in no doubt that this country possesses the mental capacity to come up with a system that gives all students a better chance of achieving their fullest potential, and we owe it to all our citizens to put such a mechanism in place.
The Common Entrance Exam, as traditionally applied, has served its purpose and it is time for us to make changes that more readily lead to the production of young citizens who are optimally prepared for the demands of today’s world.
The way our children are transferred from the primary to secondary levels has long been in need of sensible upgrading — but the secondary system cries out for an even more radical and urgent overhaul.
The world is changing around us and in many respects we are standing still, to our own detriment.