With Prime Minister Mia Mottley hinting back in June that a revamp of the common entrance exams may be on the cards, a well-know educator has joined the growing list of persons demanding the removal of the longstanding exam.
This morning vice-president of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) Leslie Lett queried whether the Ministry of Education had finally formulated an official position on this hot button education issue, as more students continue to languish under what he described as an “educational apartheid” system.
“We have to realize what this is. Whether we like it or not, it is producing an educational apartheid. This 11-plus exam is anything but equitable. We know this because we heard the police say recently that there were seven schools which provide the population of Dodds prison. People ask why did they come from these schools, instead of asking why they went there in the first place,” said Lett, who was addressing his query to acting Minister of Education Lucille Moe, during the BSTU’s panel discussion to mark Teacher’s Professional Development Day, held at Solidarity House this morning.
He argued that even from a purely financial perspective, it was unrealistic for the nation’s students to deliver greater returns on the significant monies invested in the education system, when the very system created an inequitable tier system.
“We might be spending all of this money on education but yet we have within the system, things that are undermining the efficacy of what we are spending. So we are actually shooting ourselves in the foot and I am speaking about the Common Entrance exam… Why do we have this iniquitous thing when there are enough secondary school places in Barbados? It has no pedagogical benefit or basis, it is simply a placement exam,” said Lett, whose comment was immediately followed by an eruption of applause from his counterparts in the auditorium.
He lamented that for too long this system has tampered with the psyche of students, labelling a large majority of young people as underachievers and he therefore urged the Ministry to put some pep in its step when it comes to taking a decision on the issue.
“We want to create a society where our young people have the aspiration to be productive members of society, yet we are putting them, from an early age, into a swimming pool filled with gravel and expecting them to swim. From a young age these children realise that there is a certain hierarchy within the secondary school system. For some their uniform is a badge of honour while for others, theirs is a badge of shame and dishonour. If at 11 years-old we are putting this in their mind, then what do we expect them to grow up to be,” he said, noting that his criticism of the exam was not so much about the test applied on the day but rather the culture which it spawned later down the road.
In response, Moe explained that while she would prefer the substantive Minister [Santia Bradshaw] to address this issue, she was aware that the Ministry was actively working on policies in relation of the exam.
During the Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) public meeting back in June, Mottley announced that Bradshaw’s mandate upon returning from receiving treatment in Miami, would be to abolish the “iniquity of the 11-plus exam”.
“All of us know you cannot discard people at 11 and 12 years old like if they are going on the dump heap of life and everybody is telling them that they haven’t passed. We have reached the point where we need to reject an approach to education that was settled by the British in the 1940s,” said Mottley to a crowd of supporters at Carlisle Car Park in Bridgetown.
“Santia will start the conversation over the next six months about the abolition and replacement of the Common Entrance exam, the creation of middle schools and giving people the chance to decide what school they want to go to at 13 or 14, instead of ten and 11. At the end of the second form, they can decide if they want to do a science, or technical or humanities or sports or history and geography or commerce or IT,” the PM explained then.