To abolish or retain?
One week after the latest batch of primary school students wrote the annual Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination, commonly referred to as the Common Entrance or 11-plus, debate on this ever recurring question was raging.
A guest column in Barbados TODAY under the caption End the 11-plus foolishness, stated: “Sincere apologies to the children who wrote the Common Entrance Exam on Tuesday! We are sorry that we do not yet have a Government that understands that there will never be a one-size-fits-all when it comes to learning that offers the opportunity to maximize a person’s full potential, nor one that understands that testing the nation’s children based on a standardized exam at the age of ten or eleven to separate them according to their performance on that exam alone, is foolishness.”
It went on: “World-renowned physicist and all-round thinker, Albert Einstein, was spot on when he said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The beauty of this world and the reason for all its technological and social advances are built on the reality that people approach problems from different levels of understanding. None brighter. None dimmer. Just different.
“We are working to get to more enlightened times. We are strong advocates for doing away with the obscenity of this child-abusing 11 plus nonsense once and for all, and the creation of ten year schools underpinned by a grade point average to guide the process, and devoted to holistic development and skills training. Finland has no policy of separating children into failed concepts of ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ and because of this, it now has the best performing education system in the world.”
In online posts, the majority of respondents to the article agreed with the sentiments.
“The 11-plus needs to be banned period!!! It set an unhealthy mentality for most of society with these so-called good schools and bad schools. A child should be evaluated every year along with teachers because there are too many smart kids with learning disabilities and problems, psychological and otherwise, that tend to slip through the cracks way too much. In BIM children should be assessed as teenagers versus primary school.”
“I have been talking about this exam for over 20 years. It’s a pity that in 2017 we still have people who will not admit that it has outlived its purpose. If it is so successful, why is it that, according to a former Minister of Education, only 30% of children leave school with four or more CXC passes? What happens to the rest? This is geared only towards the brightest ones succeeding.
“Yes, a few of the others will manage to come on later but how many do? They are other ways to allocate children to secondary school. All children do not have the same ability but you tell them that at 11 they should all have attained a certain standard. Further insult them by doing this test, those who get 15 or 20%, then go to another school that says by age 16 you should be at another level, if you are not, we will put you out of school. If your parent who is usually a single mother can’t pay a tertiary institution so that you could have a chance at doing what you could not do at school, what happens to you?” another commentor stated.
Some readers also questioned the relevance of the testing method.
“Why are you going to base a child’s secondary school life on two subjects and when they get there, they have 13 or 14 other subjects to do. Why not expose them as much as possible on these other subjects from as early as possible, testing them along the way? Integrated Science and Social Studies or even Spanish are taught in Primary Schools but at the Common Entrance level, only English and Maths are concentrated on.”
Amid calls for the exam to be scrapped, the Member of Parliament for St Thomas expressed her support for the test on the sidelines of a Barbados Labour Party media briefing earlier this week. Cynthia Forde, a former Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, said: “It has always been my understanding and my experience that the bank manager’s child will write the exam at the same time as [the child of] his maid or gardener, and once that child has the ability and the training to write that examination, both of them could probably go to the older grammar schools or to the newer secondary schools, or perhaps go and get a bursary,”
Forde said it was best not to tinker with the structure of the Common Entrance without proper thought or guidance. Her comments got strong support from those against the abolition of the exam.
Said one person: “The Common Entrance Examination MUST remain. Scrap it and then poor people children would not get into the top schools where they belong. The rich again would pay bribes to get some of their not so bright children into the top schools. The examination seeks to place the children at the same level of learning together and, wherever possible, place them in a school that is within their proximity, so they would not have to travel long distances to school. Children learn at different rates, some early, others late. Would you want your child in a class with children who need remedial teaching, if your child is what we call a high flyer? The system, as it is, needs improving not abolishing.”
“I believe they should leave it. Let the children study and have a goal to aim for. The problem only comes from parents who keep telling the children “you better pass for a top school! ” and then when the results come out, the child is disappointed and feels like a failure. Instead, encourage the children to do their best and that’s when there would be less stress.”
Clearly, Barbados is still divided on the issue but what we haven’t heard is a clearly defined alternative to replace the 11-plus from the critics. With the exam out of the way, the debate is expected to die down soon, only to be resurrected, though, when the exam comes around again next year.