The results of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) are back and the Scholarships and Exhibitions have been awarded. It would appear that Barbadian students have done extremely well. The students and their teachers are to be congratulated for their application and sacrifice.
Good teaching and learning are not easy and are becoming increasingly difficult. The CAPE results constitute one of the three main indices by which academic performance in Barbados is measured, the others being the Common Entrance and the CSEC, Ordinary level equivalent, results. With 27 scholarships and 36 exhibition winners, these may be best results for some time. The successful students represent the cream of the academically gifted, the so-called ‘high-flyers.’ It does not say much about the state of achievement across the length and breadth of the 17 and 18 plus cohorts or about other abilities in the technical and vocational domains.
In Barbados, given the obsession with school hierarchy, great interest usually rests in how the sixth form schools and the BCC performed. Queen’s College clearly performed best, winning 18 scholarships and 17 exhibitions. Harrison College was next with 10 scholarships and 10 exhibitions. The St Michael School was next with seven exhibitions. The BCC won one of each and The Christ Church Foundation School achieved one exhibition.
Over the last few years, Queen’s seems to be doing consistently well, probably reflecting the fact that based on Eleven Plus results, it is becoming the school of choice, particularly for girls. Because a school wins the most scholarships and exhibitions does not mean that its overall performance is superior, although it very well might be. Many years ago, H. C. won the majority of the awards but across the subject disciplines, Queen’s did considerably better in terms of percentage passes.
This year, two other things jump out at the common observer. One is the fact that The Combermere School has again failed to record a scholastic success and The Lodge School seems to have dropped off the map. In education, as in so many facets of life, reputations are won and lost. Combermere’s ostensible decline must be of concern to the old scholars of the ‘University of Waterford.’ It is an issue that bears some examination.
School performance invariably depends, to a large degree, on the quality of its student intake, but it is the school’s responsibility to bring that talent to some level of fruition. One suspects that with the ostensible decline in the status of the teaching profession, schools are finding it difficult to recruit and retain the quality of teacher required to teach at advanced levels.
In the 1960s and ‘70s it was common to do a special degree in Physics or Chemistry or History which made the graduate teacher competent to teach in the discipline. Today, some persons coming into the profession teach in areas in which they have only a minor qualification.
A teacher once applied for a post to teach CAPE History. The applicant had done only two history courses, one at BCC and one at UWI, Cave Hill. Another Department Head interviewed three prospective teachers. When questioned as to the quality of the applicants, the Head stated outright that she was not willing to accept any of the persons interviewed since she felt they would be unqualified to teach to A-level standard as the job required.
This brings me to the issue of private lessons. A father of one of the scholarship winners is quoted in the press as stating that ‘it was tough taking his son to so many lessons.’ He admitted to spending as much as $800 a month on lessons. One is now aware that many of the successful CAPE students do take private tuition not only in the main subject disciplines but in the two one unit courses, Communication and Caribbean Studies. It would appear that the one unit courses are so broad content-wise that not all teachers are able to reach them competently. The Caribbean Studies syllabus in particular, requires a certain breadth and depth of knowledge. Thus, students who can afford, go to teachers who are recognised to have the competence.
There is nothing wrong with giving or taking private tuition. With university education being as costly as it is, much is at stake. Persons who are prepared to spend money to guarantee their children’s success should be free to do so. Admittedly, this gives the economically better-off child an advantage.
It is clear that schools need to enhance both the academic and pedagogical strength of their teaching faculties beyond the CSEC level. I retain my doubts about the amount of course work required by CXC which is subject to manipulation, but I would not want to appear ‘uncharitable.’
Ralph Jemmott is a respected retired educator.