Despite the current uncertainty surrounding the staging of the Common Entrance Examination owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of Barbadian educators appearing on state-owned television agreed that now is not the time to abolish it.
Some 3,500 primary school students are expected to sit the exam this year, which was initially scheduled for May 5 but has been postponed until June 11.
During a discussion on CBC Television’s current affairs weekly, The People’s Business, Principal of the Daryll Jordan Secondary School Stephen Jackman said while he was opposed to the exam, he did not think now was the time to abandon it.
He said: “There is going to be an Eleven-plus this year as there are no mechanisms to do anything else. I come down on the side that this is an exam that has outlived its usefulness because it was designed in a time when we had more students than places for them.
“We now have more places than children. I remember when I started at Daryll Jordan we had 1,100 children, we now have 700 or less, are we going to hold onto this because it is a sacred cow?”
Lecturer in Educational Leadership at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Dr Ian Marshall, said it was unfair to abandon the exam based on the fact that students, parents and teachers have spent the last two years preparing for it.
Dr Marshall told the programme: “The Common Entrance is a two-year programme starting from Class 3; you have a whole set of parents and teachers with legitimate expectations, that the exam will be conducted and children will go to the schools of their choice, so to seek to abandon it is treading on dangerous ground.”
Retired principal Jeff Broomes as well as Joylyn Inniss, a teacher at the St Gabriel’s Primary School, said the exam could indeed be held this year, but only once schools were properly cleaned and social distancing protocols observed in the way the exam rooms were set up.
Citing the example of the Alexandra School where he was once the principal, Broomes said: “Alexandra has about 900 students, and on Common Entrance day 100 children are there. You can organise it so that five children are assigned to classrooms, you can put some in the hall, and with some creative thinking you can respect the protocols.”
Inniss added: “There is no reason why the exam cannot go on, but the schools have to be ready and deep cleaned before the children and teachers go back. Right now we have a situation where some of the teachers and parents are fearful but I think the children do need that face-to-face instruction prior to the exam again, as seeing and interacting with them online is not the same as dealing with them in person.”
All the panellists agreed that the decision to open schools again should be guided by medical professionals.
They suggested social distancing for the Eleven Plus and the CSEC secondary school exams with guidance from doctors but called on schools to be fully cleaned first.
Inniss said: “This is important because the schools were closed for a long time and did not get the daily cleaning they were accustomed to; a serious deep cleaning will help us to avoid the ‘sick building’ problems that have been plaguing us for a long time now.”