A secondary school principal is pointing an accusatory finger at parents, teachers, the education system, and even the media for putting too much pressure on children to perform in the Common Entrance Exam.
Queen’s College principal David Browne last night called for an end to parents’ “lessonmania” and harassment of education officials to get their children in specific schools; teachers pushing gifted children; and schools seeking to get into the spotlight, which now accompanies the 11-Plus Exam.
“Some effort should be made to refrain from creating so much excitement by the mass media, parents and schools,” he said in a frank address as he delivered the eighth annual Ermine Holmes Memorial Lecture at the St George Secondary School.
Parents were the subject of much of Browne’s criticism. He referred to their refusal to take the expert advice of their children’s class teachers in choosing schools, and mothers and fathers “standing around examination centres all day during the sitting of the Common Entrance, as though their presence will somehow improve the performance of their children”. He was particularly critical of parents who bombard their children with lessons ahead of the examination.
“Sometimes I’m convinced that the lessons serve more as a psychological prop for the parents than tuition designed to improve learning among the children,” he said, as he voiced his disapproval of parents who “harass the Ministry of Education about transfers around the system after their children have been allocated to a school”.
Browne added: “Some primary schools, in their quest to move up the ladder in the pecking order, insensitively strain their children and perceive to teach to the Common Entrance Examination rather than the total child.”
Another area of immediately needed change, according to Browne, is the approach of teachers at the primary level who “join in the hype, pushing the gifted ones to the breaking point for recognition, worth and prestige”.
“Such hype and publicity must cease, for it is a vicious cycle which feeds on itself, and goes on and on.
“It places the children under tremendous pressure, and destroys the self-esteem of far too many in the system,” he warned.
While Browne insisted that all the fuss was not benefiting students, the educator stressed his support for the exam – properly called the Barbados Secondary Schools Entrance Examination (BSSEE) – until a satisfactory alternative was found.
“I do not support the abolition of the examination, despite its shortcomings, until we can come up with a carefully devised and a trustworthy procedure for transfer from primary level to secondary,” the principal told the audience.”
Noting that the BSSEE had been the focus of much criticism and controversy for a long time, he referred to then Minister of ducation Louis Tull in 1977 speaking of the Barbados Government’s commitment to the abolition of the 11-Plus Examination.
“So, you see, it goes way back,” Browne said, describing calls by some education professionals for the examination to be discarded as “a very simplistic way of looking at things”.
“I am convinced the problem is not the Common Entrance Exam, but what we do with the scores, the process of allocation,” he said, adding that “the challenge is to devise a method of transfer which will be fair and pleasing to everyone”.
A total of 3,728 students – 1,870 boys and 1,858 girls – will tomorrow take the test that determines which of the island’s 22 secondary schools they will enter in September.