Students sitting the Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination (BSSEE) this year could be the last group to take the test, as Government moves full steam ahead to abolish it. But the island’s largest teachers’ union is urging education authorities to slow down.
Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw revealed this morning that steps to abolish the exam, also referred to as the Common Entrance or 11-plus exam, will begin as early as next month.
“We are hoping that this would be the last cohort of students that will participate in the 11-plus examination, and if that is the case, then once we start in March it is intended that we spend a few months in discussion with the entire country and be able to formulate a programme going forward for implementation in 2021,” she said as she sat in the Well of Parliament, during debate on the 2020/2021 Estimates, surrounded by high-ranking Ministry officials.
Bradshaw noted that while many options were being considered, Government had not yet decided on a replacement for the exam that some blame for the perpetuation of the tier system within local education.
“I have read paper after paper recommending the abolition of the 11-plus but in terms of moving to the next phase, people remain very uncomfortable when you talk about the abolition of this particular exam. The biggest question is, ‘what do we replace it with?’ I believe that we are bright enough as a society to recognize when something is not working. I also believe that we are also bright enough to recognize that there are other systems in existence that we can draw from,” the Education Minister said.
“One of the things we have looked at is the whole concept of middle schools. We have drawn on a number of international countries as well as within the region. A few weeks ago, I established an education advisory committee to delve into not just the whole issue of reform of the 11 -plus, but to dig deeper into whether our system is working for us,” she added.
On the heels of the announcement, president of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Sean Spencer told Barbados TODAY the union had anticipated the BSSEE would be phased out over a two- to five-year period.
“We were expecting that it would be a case of establishing a framework and then between two to five years we see the implementation gradually. So, we have to now wait and see what comes out in the discussion,” he said.
Spencer contended that there were many issues which needed to be fixed in the system, before and after the BSSEE, that would take a considerable amount of time to fix.
“The issues which persons have identified within the education system are not of the making of the Common Entrance Exam on the given day. There are many issues which need to be address which would lead to the Common Entrance Exam and there are also many issues, such as remediation, that is necessary, after the exam. So, to focus on removing the Common Entrance and then look to be constructive after would be like burning down the house to get rid of termites,” he said.
“We have deficits in terms of assessing children whose reading scores are below the accepted level and these issues are not addressed by way of adequate resources. Redefining the transition by which persons move from primary school to secondary school is not going to solve the issue.”
Minister Bradshaw made it clear, during the Estimates debate, that while the consultation process is being engaged on the removal of the exam, the current Estimates have made provisions for the start of education reform through the use of technology.
Among these measures would be a $5.65 million allocation for the teaching of robotics in the classroom as well as over $300,000 for cabling to ensure all schools across Barbados have Wi-Fi access for staff and students.
“We have recognized that if we are to seize the opportunities in the global communities, we have to ensure that our students are equipped with tools to not just give back to Barbados but also to be able to go anywhere in the world and work,” she said.
“It is with that in mind that I am very proud to announce this morning that this administration, being committed to emerging technologies and wanting to place Barbados ahead of the game, has decided to invest in robotics. This would not just be the odd summer camp taking place across the country, but to do it on a large scale where we invest the sum of $5.65 million in equipment and ensuring that robotics is placed across all secondary schools.”
Bradshaw also revealed that financing has been allocated to reshape schools, enabling them to make use of resources such as large parcels of land for agriculture.