As pupils prepare to write this year’s 11-Plus Examination some Barbadians have renewed their call for that test to be scrapped.
The calls were made during a town hall meeting, put on by the Barbados Private Sector Association, on Wednesday evening at Combermere School. The discussion was focused on re-imagining education for the next 50 years.
Rhonda Blackman, president of the National Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, told the small audience that the current system had served its purpose and was in need of urgent review. She said while she believed the “chalk and talk” method was still important, there was need to incorporate more use of technology at all levels.
“I believe that we have outgrown our system . . . . If we want an education system that is responsive to the needs of our people, we need to do some serious restructuring. And we [have] to get it right from at the primary level,” she said, though commending the current structure for producing many scholars.
Blackman said she believed the change should begin at the primary level with teachers developing their technological skills, restructuring their methodology and teaching strategies.
“The fact that this is a technological age bombarding our people, we have some serious restructuring to do. Parents need to also get it right because the breakdown in society isn’t from the school system; it is from the family,” said the parent representative.
“We have to stop blaming Government. We have to stop blaming teachers. We got to stop blame, blame, blame, and we got to step up to the plate as parents and do what we are supposed to do. I believe that we parents, and by extension, society, we are the ones that are failing our children,” she added.
She said a holistic development of children was needed, adding that they should be encouraged to become critical thinkers and innovators.
Describing the 11-Plus Exam as “a millstone around the necks” of children, Senator Alwyn Adams also agreed that the current methods of teaching were “not appealing” to the current century. He too called for the retraining of teachers to meet the educational needs.
He said the examination, which was designed to, among other things, determine which secondary school an individual was allocated to, was only benefiting “roughly 30 per cent of the students”. This, he said, was only befitting the middle class.
He also blamed the behaviour of some secondary school students on the 11-Plus, saying it had divorced the students from their immediate communities.
Benjamin Niles, a former Harrison College student, questioned the relevance of the exam.
“I would want us to abandon the 11-Plus Exam and move to centres of excellence based on core competence . . . . We say that we want a graduate in every household. Mistake! That is not required. So we have to look at what is relevant and press forward for the future,” he said, adding that the university should look at producing people who would meet the needs of the society, not just to give a degree.
Political scientist and former University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer Peter Wickham also questioned the current education system, saying there were issues which needed to be addressed in order to improve the development of children and the country.
Wickham too questioned the role of the 11-Plus in students development, saying “there is absolutely no logic to an 11-Plus Examination where we have enough space at secondary schools for everyone”. He described it as “a punitive test to punish people”.
“All the secondary schools offer the same projects; why are we torturing children with an 11-Plus when all it does is ensure that certain people get to certain schools continuously?” he asked, adding that parents whose children were most disadvantaged were the ones who were more inclined towards believing the system was helping.
Wickham also questioned why some professions were still preferred in Barbados and why scholarships were given on the basis of academic merit with little thought for helping meet the needs of the society.
The radio talk show moderator also questioned why a priority of state assistance was given to individuals entering UWI over those who chose to study at other universities.
Wickham suggested that after studies, students should be “obligated to give back” to the society.
He said the university had some “serious questions” to answer in terms of why it was “so costly to run”, adding that while he understood what the principal of UWI was doing, there were simple things that could be done to bring down cost.
Some parents said they were not in favour of getting rid of the 11-Plus, but said teachers and parents were to be blamed for the most part of the children’s educational development.